A shambolic Welsh Government have offered no leadership for local government in this crisis

Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, at a Welsh Government press conference

Dafydd Meurig, Gwynedd Council Deputy Leader

As a county councillor, I have no real insight into how Welsh Government (WG) works, but I do have a good grasp of the way local authorities function, particularly my own, here in Gwynedd. Our top priority during this unprecedented emergency is to save as many lives as possible and support our communities.

The first few weeks of this present crisis were challenging for all, but I was willing to give the Government in Cardiff the benefit of the doubt, and time to get their act together.

A national emergency requires the national government to act decisively and give consistent messages. The absence of this has meant that local authorities like mine have had to take their own lead and make decisions in the interests of our own residents.

Surely a Wales-wide approach to the crisis would have put the well-being of all the country’s people at the centre of national decision-making?

But it seems that ministers have simply been hanging around to see what decision Westminster makes, before rolling out a similar policy with a vaguely Welsh flavour, 48hrs later. An example of this was seeing WG refuse to expand home-care testing in care homes, only to change their minds again a few days later.

From a delivery perspective, the original testing regime was farcical. It went something like this:

  • Local Authority to collect names of symptomatic employees and private sector workers
  • Local Authority to send up to 15 names to Data Cymru by 10am the following morning
  • Data Cymru to scrutinise names and send to Public Health Wales
  • Public Health Wales to send names on to relevant Health Board
  • Local Health Board to arrange and carry out testing with each individual
  • Samples to be driven to Cardiff for analysis
  • Public Health Wales to be informed of the results
  • Public Health Wales to send results to Data Cymru
  • Data Cymru to send results to Local Authority
  • Local authority to contact employee / private sector providers to inform them of result

This would be a very convoluted process in normal times, but it is especially so during an emergency where speed is of the essence. It certainly doesn’t sound like a system designed by someone experienced in delivering a front line service!

 

Delay

A few weeks ago, WG announced that small businesses were to receive substantial grants to help them through the crisis. In Gwynedd, this would have resulted in around £18m of public money finding its way to the pockets of some second home owners, who live outside the area. Cynically some of these second home owners have flipped their property over to the Business Rate system in order to avoid paying any Council Tax at all.

Gwynedd and four other affected counties had a favourable reception from WG Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James, who directed officials to find a way to avoid this abhorrent misuse of tax-payers money.

A straightforward form of words proposed by Gwynedd – on the basis of knowing what would work for our rural communities – was replaced. WG’s form of words was far more difficult to implement, as proposed by their civil servants who are firmly ensconced in the Cardiff Bay bubble. The drawn-out discussions and delay has resulted in thousands of genuine holiday businesses having to wait weeks for their payment.

As Cabinet Member with responsibility for Adult Social Services, Health and Wellbeing, I and 21 other portfolio holders have been periodically summoned to ‘meetings’ with ministers, prior to Covid-19.

One recent example springs to mind. It involved a full day in Cardiff for a so-called ‘Learning Event’ where all of Wales’ ‘Regional Partnership Boards’ were to compare notes and share best practice. I expected this to be a golden opportunity to discuss with a WG minister, current plans and ideas for the future. Unfortunately, the Minister in question, Vaughan Gething made a 10-minute opening speech, took a few questions and disappeared. It seems this is de rigueur for this type of gathering.

Dafydd Meurig, Gwynedd Council Deputy Leader

Delivery

Surely a real partnership approach – where genuine dialogue is undertaken with those who have real knowledge of what is happening on the ground – could only lead to better governance and ultimately better outcomes for the people of Wales?

Collaboration and involvement are two of the fundamental ways of working which WG has been keen to promote as their guiding principle. Let us please put these practices in place.

My overriding impression during this public health emergency is that of a shambolic WG running around like headless chickens, offering no leadership or clear direction. Are our leading politicians being dictated to by civil servants, who have little regard for, and possibly even contempt, towards local government?

It is interesting to note that WG doesn’t actually deliver front line services, whereas County Councils do. The new Welsh Government elected next year – whatever its political hue – would be wise to remember that.

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WrexhamianHuw Daviesj humphrysAndrew John TeagueE Williams Recent comment authors
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Peter
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Peter

In many ways I think that you have been very generous to the Welsh Government, though space dictates that you must be selective.

The under-declaration of deaths by Betsi Cadwallader comes to mind – that Board is under special measures applied by . . . Welsh Government.

Yes’ as one starts there are clearly too many examples of incompetence to list, though given the WG record in turning Wales into an economic and educational basket case in 20 years, we shouldn’t be surprised

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

It’s almost hilarious the convoluted tale of how testing should be done according to the Cardiff elite. What exactly is the point of Public Health Wales? In the past they’ve told us that children eating crisps and other junk foods and drinks could become overweight. Thank you for that revelation that nobody had realised before. The Cardiff elite invent quangos and organisations and committees whose only purpose is to find jobs for political deadbeats and relatives of political deadbeats who can get on the taxpayer funded gravy train. Get rid of the lot. I admire a local councillor for having… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

We have 20 years of accumulated evidence that Labour have well developed aptitudes when it comes to creating serial cock-ups. Behaviours over last decade or so suggest that Plaid Cymru could probably match them when it comes to inflating the Bay bubble while damaging life prospects of the citizens at large. Just no evidence that they have what it takes. Lib Dems despite odd flurry of serious effort have almost disappeared off the park mainly because of their antics at UK level. Which leaves us with the rest. Now a Tory-BXP-UKIP axis might not “sell” as it too could be… Read more »

Iwan Harries
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Iwan Harries

What PC behaviours are you referring to out of interest?

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

that party is part of the problem not a solution. Their appetite for jumping on ishoo bandwagons is habitual, they would sooner stamp out any dissenting voices rather than embrace a broader vision – indeed quite the little fascists without the usual uniforms. I take it you are one of them ….

David Reader
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David Reader

On front line services, you might argue that WG is delivering health care at BCUHB under special measures. Probably best they don’t get involved…

Jonesy
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Jonesy

Spot on. From the outset i have been impressed with the organisational capacity of the LAs. Sir Gâr has been fantastic and their communication excellent. The slow, bureaucratic and totally ill thought through way of day to day working has been turned upside down. If only we could see radical change in Local governance. It has been plainly obvious that the People are doing it for themselves and that they are clearly more capable than the pathetic, spineless, Stalinist, Welsh Great

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

well how’s that for a piece of professional procurement ? https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/coronavirus-uk-ppe-shipment-from-turkey-proved-useless-with-400000-surgical-gowns-being-returned/ar-BB13JwjN?ocid=spartanntp 400k bits of kit all not up to the approved/agreed standard. This suggests that the supplier was new to UK , had not been properly assessed as being to a basic BS/ISO standard. Was this a speculative spot market punt, paid up front with little or no quality dialogue before hand ? Was the purchasing exec in charge of this mess familiar with the purposes of the materials to be supplied and how the end users would have certain minimum expectations of the kit’s performance ? Or was the… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Suspect this going on everywhere. One spiv now in Finnish prison for selling useless stuff.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Checking a current ISO quality certification for this class of product is usually a good way to segregate good suppliers out of the spivs and hawkers.

E Williams
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E Williams

Thank you for that frank insight. Though I doubt most are surprised to hear a suggestion that Cardiff bay civil servants are wagging assembly ministers. Certainly, those in the limelight at Cardiff Bay seem more likely to let off a dose of despondency than air competent leadership.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Info is getting to HQ quickly via the civil service Trojan Horse?

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

You bet. Until I’m convinced, I’m working on the assumption that Bae Caerdydd civil servants are there to work for Westminster and not for Cymru.

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

“Until I’m convinced otherwise”, I meant to say. Gizza edit button, Ifan!

Andrew John Teague
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Andrew John Teague

Neither has the UK / Westminster Government done a good job over the past ten years. Sending the RAF flight to Turkey and back, no inspector to check the products before returning.