Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
My attention has been drawn to a social media statement by the Leader of Merthyr Tydfil CBC regarding the recent decision to appoint an Improvement and Assurance Board to assist Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.
In this statement the Leader makes a number of personal, political and untrue allegations about my behaviour which I must therefore respond to in public.
It seems that the Leader takes exception to the short public comment that I have made on a recent report about Merthyr Tydfil CBC. That report is titled “Key Challenges, Leadership Capacity and Capability, Governance and Strategy”. You can read the report of the Independent Advisor here.
I believe the discussion about the issues facing the council should be based on this report and the previous criticisms of the Council made by the Wales Audit Office.
My public comment
I will start by setting out my short public comment on this report:
“The report of the independent External Advisor makes for sobering reading about the problems currently facing Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. As I have stated previously my overriding interest is the quality of services delivered to the citizens in this part of my constituency. This report makes clear that the current situation is unacceptable.
My focus is on moving forward and as the local Assembly Member I am of course available to support the work of the new Improvement and Assurance Board as they may see fit.
However the focus of the improvement work now required rests with the local authority itself. I hope they realise the scale of the changes needed to respond to the findings of the Independent Advisor”.
Having read the report several times I repeat that I find the report “sobering” and that the “current situation is unacceptable”.
This report was prepared by a former Chief Executive of Swindon Council. His appointment was welcomed by the Council Leader, as it satisfied the Council in having a professional and independent person to conduct the review. For my part I fully understood that in the early Summer of this year the current Council Leader did not wish for the review to be carried by a person in anyway connected to a Labour authority, and that was achieved to his satisfaction with Mr John Gilbert.
The findings we now have are however sobering.
Anyone reading this report will see that the Independent Advisor states that in his opinion (and I summarise):
- The Leader’s ‘manifesto’ is not costed or well understood,
- A lack of a shared vision,
- A council locked in “survival mode”
- Lack of clarity over short and long term budget objectives,
- A lack of acceptance about the need to transform the council,
- Little evidence of collaborative working,
- A need to work strategically not operationally,
- Governance and Scrutiny require development,
- Blurred boundaries of responsibilities between officers and Members,
- Poor Member attendance at meetings,
- Training events not followed up,
- Morale has been damaged, a view reinforced by staff and trade unions,
- Lack of leadership capacity and expertise in transformational change,
- A lack of urgency to address issues,
- Not embraced the digital agenda,
- Need to strengthen corporate leadership and capacity,
- Lack of clarity about “change” in the organisation,
- No evidence of consistent communication,
- Lack of regular, cohesive messages,
- Partnership working seems opportunistic, some partnerships have expressed disappointment that Merthyr Tydfil Council haven’t been more proactive,
These are not my views, but the views of the Independent Advisor – they are sobering.
The issues and problems identified by the Independent Advisor are numerous and widespread. The situation he has described is “unacceptable”. If things do not change and improve then the citizens of the Borough will not get the services they need and deserve.
If the Leader has taken personal offence at such a straightforward media comment then I think it may, sadly, show he is in denial about the situation.
In his statement the Leader also make criticism of:
the Wales Audit Office,
the work of the Independent Advisor.
The Leader should take those matters up directly with those bodies and the individuals concerned.
However I fail to understand how the Leader making such criticisms, and the personal nature of his attack upon me, helps to improve the situation for Merthyr Tydfil CBC, nor the public services that should be the focus of all our concerns.
The Leader is elected by his controlling group and it is natural that we will sometimes have different political opinions and priorities. However I have no idea what is meant by him stating that I have highly destructive and devious ways and I will be writing to him in a personal capacity for an explanation on these matters.
I am saddened that the Council Leader has chosen to act in this way. We were due to hold a long planned meeting this Friday but he has cancelled that meeting. This is not the first time, and it is another lost opportunity to discuss these important issues.
For the record
As the Assembly Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney I have a legitimate right to comment on matters of public interest involving vital local services upon which many constituents, including vulnerable people, depend.
Since my election in 2016 I have largely ignored making a running commentary on Merthyr Tydfil CBC. I am busy enough as the AM without worrying about the daily details of life in the Civic Centre. I am not the ‘Labour Group’ on the council and I do not direct, or have to approve, the actions they take. As political representatives we are all responsible for our own actions.
However as the AM it is necessary, at times, for me to comment on statutory reports like those by the Wales Audit Office and more recently by the Independent Advisor.
Delivering for my constituency
I always seek to make interventions that can assist my constituents, whether that be speaking up for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney in the Senedd, in delivering major projects like Welsh Government support for the new bus station, or the Metro system, investment in local businesses or tourism projects, or bringing the First Minister and other Welsh Ministers to the constituency to discuss important issues and projects.
I also work hard to help constituents with their problems and personal cases.
I will of course be happy to discuss these issues with the Improvement and Assurance Board if they feel it would be of value to their work.