Islwyn Assembly Member Gwyn Price, who was only elected in 2011, has spoken less in the Chamber than any other speaker, totting up 2,269 words in one year. He represents one of the most deprived regions of the UK and his word count is even shorter than the Welsh Secretary, David Jones, who only made one annual appearance.
As reported in the South Wales Echo, Mr Price’s inaction was raised during a radio question and answer session with the First Minister Carwyn Jones. A contributor claimed Mr Price “never contributes” to debates, and cited an example where Mr Price was tabled to lead a short debate in the Assembly in November, but failed to lodge a motion for it. To rebut claims of total inactivity, the First Minister claimed that Mr Price did in fact ask questions, and was a part of an important committee.
Mr Price, who was a keen former Union Leader and who grew up in the South Wales Valleys, announced in February he was to stand down from his seat at the next election, which prompted sarcastic amendments to his Wikipedia page suggesting he was stepping down to concentrate on an autobiography called “Code of Silence”.
The latest revelation came to light after research from Welsh language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, which collated the number of words spoken in Welsh during plenary sessions, as well as the total number of words, to gauge the use of Welsh in the Assembly.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have claimed that:
The primary role of an Assembly Member is to represent their constituents in the National Assembly. Yet week in, and week out, Gwyn Price fails to utter a single word in Assembly debates on behalf of his constituents.
The research conducted by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and other bodies is very revealing. Politicians are paid to represent their area, so inactivity harms not only democracy, but also taxpayers. Constituents are should have a right to recall their representatives if they feel they aren’t getting value for money.
Supporters of the TPA were in Bridgend last weekend, collecting signatures against the Council’s move to increase Council Tax by 4.98 per cent. Bridgend is situated roughly half way between Cardiff and Swansea on the South Wales coast, acting as a commuter town since industry in the area has gone into decline.
On Saturday supporters met with local shoppers, all of whom were concerned about the severe Council Tax increases imposed by the local Council. Many local people questioned why, in Wales, Council Tax was being increased by as much as 5 per cent, while millions of homes in England are having their bills frozen, if not cut.
A local resident noted:
Politicians in Cardiff are getting all their funding from London, and when the money comes arrives these politicians not know how to spend it. We are suffer as a result.
While we were in Bridgend, we had many more concerned residents stop and voice their opinions on their recent 4.98 per cent increase, with our petition gaining hundreds of signatures in just an hour. Supporters and signatories were all encouraged to hold their local representatives to account for their failure to protect taxpayers from some of the most severe increases in household bills in quite some time.
It is time that local authorities cut waste and ensured that taxpayers are getting a fair deal. The War on Waste will continue in Wales, coming to the Neath Port Talbot and Conwy areas in the next few weeks.
TaxPayers’ Alliance activists gathered on a warm sunny day in Chelmsford last Friday to protest against high rates of council tax in Essex. Essex County Council recently froze Council Tax, but its rates are still too high. The average Band D bill in Chelmsford is £1,503. That’s £35 higher than the national average, which stands at £1,468. Actually cutting the tax should be on the Council’s agenda.
Despite government action to freeze Council Tax,many households are still feeling the pinch of higher taxes. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 580,000 families are paying an average of £149 more in council tax than they did before April 2013.
“It’s ridiculous”, said one signatory to our petition. “A lot of families are still struggling, councils need to let people keep more of their own money”.
Essex County Council has spent £90 million over three years on external consultants and temporary staff, £3.3 million on a traffic congestion scheme that could have been solved for much less by removing a pedestrian crossing, and £2.3 million over six years on so-called compromise agreements – or gagging orders, more accurately.
By contrast, down in London Hammersmith and Fulham Council has cut its rates by 20 per cent over seven years by sharing public services with neighbouring councils, selling unused council buildings, encouraging staff to set up mutual and social enterprises, and reforming the way services are delivered – for instance by outsourcing street cleaning, parks maintenance and human resources.
Fears that cuts there would harm public services have proven to be unfounded. Six out of ten people (of 1,000 asked) said they actually thought their local services were better after five years of spending cuts in an ICM poll last year.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance recently produced a report on 201 ways councils can save money, from sharing services to a freeze on recruitment. Perhaps councils should take a look before thinking about more tax hikes.
Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in Europe, recently paid around £2,000 to install a new lamp post. However, residents have been left dumbstruck as the post does not light up the pavement below. Eastern Road in Sutton Coldfield has been left in darkness as the lamp post has been put up directly behind a conifer tree.
The 20ft high lamppost cannot let out any light and the council are now in talks with contractors Amey in cutting back all the foliage. It is also one in a series of 95,000 street lamps in Birmingham that are to be used as a part of its new upgrade process. The new energy efficient LED models were meant to be seen as a cost cutting method, replacing the old fluorescent lights, though it does not have seem to have worked out that way.
One local councillor said that ‘it gives the council a bad name’ and we couldn’t agree more. Wasting £2,000 of taxpayers’ money is never likely to be seen as a ‘positive’ or ‘good’ move. If this is the start of upgrade process, we dread to think how the rest of it will play out.
For over a decade the Welsh Government has been running the NHS in Wales. Control of the NHS should have given the Welsh Government the ability to localise services and pursue policies that Welsh taxpayers really want. As a result policies such as free prescriptions have been introduced in an attempt to win votes and are often cited as a beacon of success of the Welsh Government.
However for all the potential positives from devolution and the localisation of services, these have been undermined leading to a lost generation of advances in health care. The NHS has failed to curtail lavish and wasteful spending which has put extra pressure on frontline services. We still hear of swollen managerial boards, armies of equality managers and even senior environmental officers all of whom make no real or needed contribution to the frontline care.
This week we have seen that calls made to the Welsh Ambulance service involving life-threatening situations were responded to within targets only 53 per cent of the time. During Welsh Questions at which, time and again the failings of the current Welsh Government are cited, it was highlighted that since 2008 the Welsh Government has failed to meet waiting times for suspected urgent cancer referrals and that there is in fact no cancer drugs fund in Wales.
But what is most upsetting about this lost opportunity is the fact that the Welsh Government is more interested in changing indicators (some may call that moving the goal posts) rather than examining past failings and learning from them. The devolution project in Cardiff Bay truly is in denial, more interested in blaming everyone else other than itself for failings or ignoring the true concerns of those who use the service. This couldn’t be more obvious than in the case of Ann Clwyd MP and her husband Mr Owen Roberts, sadly Mr Roberts passed away after having to wait for 27 hours on a hospital trolley, being treated as Ms Clwyd describes like a battery hen.
It is now time for the Welsh Government to focus the health budget on front-line services and the only way to do that is to cut waste on NHS non-jobs.
Less than a week after the TPA’s War on Waste grassroots demonstration on College Green outside Bristol City Hall, the elected Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, has responded to Bristol TPA supporter Roy Tallis’ suggestion that there should be a cut in the number of councillors.
‘In my view,’ says Ferguson, ‘there should be closer to 50 councillors rather than the current 70.’
It is a remarkably prompt reply to Tallis’ call for a dramatic cut in the number of councillors in Bristol. Tallis, a businessman and former councillor, told the Bristol Post about his plan to reduce their £1 million allowances bill, footed by the local taxpayer.
‘I just wonder whether we need so many councillors now,’ said Tallis. ‘I would have thought a dozen at the most would be enough to represent the whole city instead of two councillors for each of the 35 wards. The fact of the matter is that very few people know who their councillor is – and even if they did, I don’t think they would go to them for help if they were not of their own political persuasion.’
Responding to his suggestion, the Mayor is now leading a review of the way Bristol City Council runs its affairs.
‘My instinct says that the new process we now have,’ says Ferguson, ‘does justify having fewer councillors but it is important not to be extreme about this and to get the balance right.’ The Mayor wants to see 70 cut to 50, but Tallis wants to push it further and see the number of councillors reduced to 12.
‘I don’t think democracy would be a casualty if we had far fewer councillors,’ argues Tallis, ‘because the mayor is an elected post and people can make their point at the ballot box every four years. I would like to see a debate on the issue so we ask whether we have value for money by having so many councillors.’
It is great news for Bristol TaxPayers’ Alliance. As Tallis said in his blog for us: ‘Let Bristol show the way’!
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance
Does Bristol City Council (BCC) really need 70 elected councillors to serve its citizens? As a resident of the city and a one-time councillor, I can say this is one way of cutting the cost of local government—reduce the number of councillors—and the TPA in Bristol is campaigning to get the numbers cut. On Saturday, we brought the War on Waste message to Bristol City Hall and gathered on College Green with our banners.
From BCC’s recent accounts, the councillors can be seen to cost the local taxpayer over £1m. A Bristol councillor’s Basic Allowance is £11,416, so times that by 70 and you get £799,120, but that’s just the start of it. BCC councillors can claim Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA). These vary and are paid on top of their allowances for attending committees. This can go up to as much as £30, 411 per councillor.
In 2012-13, Bristol SRAs amounted to £308,496, so that gives a total basic cost of £1,107,616. That figure could then be more than trebled if we take into account the cost of support staff, office accommodation, expenses and the like. Let’s say approximately £3.5m, that’s £50,000 per councillor.
Now if Bristol’s citizenry were actively supportive of these councillors and rushed out enthusiastically to support them, then it might be a cost well worth paying. But do they? In 2013, the council election turnout averaged some 27 per cent across the 23 participating wards. Even in the General Election year, 2010, none of the 24 participating wards experienced a turnout greater than 50 per cent for the city elections.
So, at the best of times, a comfortable majority of potential voters in Bristol, thumbed their noses at the opportunity to elect their representatives
Why the massive turnoff rather than turnout? Because councillors are virtually redundant as far as policy making is concerned. Even more so with the scope and influence of the recently elected Mayor, George Ferguson. If you doubt me, just ask the councillors themselves. Those to whom I’ve spoken admit to it largely being a non-job. A few serve on the Mayor’s cabinet and carry specific responsibilities for functional areas of city administration. So, let’s say six appointed or elected councillors could do the work of supporting the Mayor.
Even this might be overkill. There are very well paid and highly qualified professional staff who could discharge these duties much more effectively and efficiently than the party nominees or independent candidates who offer themselves under the current arrangements. Most large enterprises function very well without the benefit and involvement of political parties.
Such changes to our democratic processes may need the authority of legislation, but surely to £1 million — and possibly up to £3 million — out of the operating costs of any organisation is worth a little effort, particularly so when it will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the enterprise. Let Bristol show the way.
Rothbury villagers in Northumberland are furious at their Parish Council for hiking its precept from £22,413 to £52,000, almost an extra pound a week on top of their Council Tax. ‘This 132 per cent increase is on top of a 50 per cent increase in the previous year,’ says one local resident, ‘almost 300% in approximately two years.’ Imagine if every layer of local government did the same!
At the start of the year, a majority vote by Rothbury Parish Councillors decided that the budget for 2014-15 would be set at £52,000, despite some debate within the village council. ‘Many people are struggling financially at the moment,’ said one councillor opposed to the rise. ‘We have got a large ageing population in the area and I have a big concern about increasing it. I think it is far too much and I think it will be highly criticised by the electorate.’
The increase comes shortly after the government said it would cap parish precept rises at a maximum of 5 per cent. It has led to other parish councils forcing through big increases. ‘There is no mechanism to cap parish or town councils at the moment,’ says the Town Clerk for Barnard Castle in County Durham, which put through a near 8 per cent increase earlier this year. ‘It would need to be made law by the Secretary of State. We need to understand that in the next 12-months they could still impose a cap and we would be restrained in coming years.’
There is a growing feeling among residents across the UK that parish councils are acting beneath the radar of public scrutiny. ‘No written budget has been publicised as to why such an increase has been agreed,’ says one Rothbury villager. ‘The proposal was apparently introduced only during the course of the Jan 2014 meeting, without advance notification via agenda. It also refuses to allow access to its past accounts, its formal minutes, all clearly contrary to legal public right of inspection.’ So much for open and transparent government.
Bristol University students packed local favourite pub The White Bear to add their support to our campaign to Call Time on Duty. Brandishing our wine mats bearing the facts about how much tax we pay on our drinks, they demanded that the Chancellor George Osborne cut the duty on wine and spirits in next week’s Budget.
‘As a student, I make a habit of shopping for the best food deals, and skimping on heating to get lower bills,’ says Bristol student Victoria Newark. ‘The high duty that government imposes on wine makes a mockery of students’ hard attempts to keep living costs down.’
‘I would like to see a reduction in wine duty,’ says Newark, ‘as I face enough expenditure and debt without this sneaky government tax on a fun night out.’
Just click on this link and insert your postcode to contact your local MP calling for him to help act on bringing down the duty on wine and spirits. How can you refuse!
Leading Bath restaurateur, Charlie Digney, proprietor of award-winning local restaurants the King William, the Garrick’s Head and Oakhill Inn, joined Bath popular bar owner Fari Nejad of Opium to support our national campaign calling for the duty on wine and spirits to be cut.
‘Sometimes I feel as if all we do in business is pay tax,’ says Charlie Digney. ‘I pay huge duty on the purchase of alcohol. Then, I have to collect 20% of sales in VAT. I pay about 13% above my wage bill in National Insurance. Our company employs 40 people, at least 15 work full time, so ours is their main income. Less tax on wine would allow us to reduce our prices yet improve profit margins, it would be a win-win situation.’
Other Bath restaurateurs have also stepped up to support our campaign.
‘I didn’t get into this business to be a tax collector,’ says Marty Grant of popular Bath bar and restaurant Gascoyne Place. ‘Every time I blink it’s £10. I have a passion for food and wine, but I don’t think the customer fully appreciates how much it costs us in taxes and business charges just to turn on the lights here. A cut in wine duty would certainly help.’
Go to calltimeonduty.co.uk to send a letter to your local MP calling for a cut in the duty on wine and spirits.
Exeter University students joined our campaign to Call Time on Duty at John Gandy’s wine bar off the cobble streets of central Exeter. With glasses of wine in their hands, they called on the Chancellor George Osborne to axe further rises in duty on wine and spirits in this country—and bring it in line with more reasonable rates of alcohol tax in Europe.
‘A cut in wine duty would be an incredibly positive move for the government to make,’ says Exeter student Harry Chamberlain, ‘as it would ensure those who wish to drink responsibly can do so without being priced out. People should not have to travel to France to bulk buy wine at a cheaper price.’
‘From a student’s perspective,’ says Chamberlain, ‘it would enable more people to buy from local shops and businesses rather than seeking lower prices from large supermarkets.’
Just click on this link and insert your postcode and a letter will be automatically sent to your local MP calling for him to help act on bringing down the duty on wine and spirits.
London School of Economics students raised their glasses to our Call Time on Duty campaign. In the historic George IV pub in Portugal Street, opposite the LSE, they asked the Chancellor George Osborne to cut the duty on wine and spirits in this country, some of the highest alcohol tax rates in Europe.
‘Let’s be frank,’ says LSE student Chris Hulm, ‘even if we disregard the obvious opinions of penniless students pursuing their next “vodka double”, a tax system that dictates 79% of a bottle of spirits and 57% of a bottle of wine is sheer folly. We are heading towards the farcical situation where British citizens will pay more tax on wine and spirits than our European counterparts, but consume less.’
‘It’s high time this is rectified,’ says Hulm, ‘in order to promote responsible consumption for taxpayers, and more bang for the buck where the Treasury is concerned.’
Just click on this link and insert your postcode and a letter will be automatically sent to your local MP calling for him to help act on bringing down the duty on wine and spirits. Cheers to that!