Closing banks in Rural Wales – Llanidloes

Yesterday, a public meeting was held at Llanidloes Town Hall. It was well attended with local residents and business people. It is clear that the announcement of Barclays’ closure has angered many people.

IMG_0222The situation so far.

Llanidloes Town Council met with Russell George AM on the 7th of August to discuss how to move forward with the situation.

Barclays has agreed to meet with both Russell George and Glyn Davies, however, what is dismaying is the fact that the bank cannot, or probably will not meet with them until the 29th of September. Also, what strikes me as infuriating is the bank’s point blank refusal to meet with any of the residents of Llanidloes to discuss the closure – I for one see this as blatant cowardice.

The bank has attempted to give reasoning for their decision to close in an online document – let’s take a look at this.

  1. 68% of customers “use the other ways of banking”well duh! Of course they do, however, this is not a reason for closing the branch. It is perfectly possible to do some banking online, i.e. transfer money or pay a bill, and then go to a branch for other banking such as pay in a cheque or cash.
  2. 51% of customers of this branch have used neighbouring branches in the last 12 months”. This statistic isn’t qualified in any way. What was the nature of the visits to the neighbouring branches? It is perfectly plausible that the 51% Barclays mention used those other branches only once as they happened to be in those towns.
  3. Between April 2016 and March 2017 there were 21,826 counter transactions at Llanidloes, compared to 26,618 the year before. On the face of it, an 18% drop in transactions is bad, however, the bank doesn’t provide enough data to show a trend – for all we know the average number of transactions might be around 21,000 per year – Barclays should be more open about this.
  4. Barclays have identified only 104 regular customers who use the branch exclusively for their banking. Again, is this a bad thing? Who doesn’t have accounts or savings in different banks? This suggest that there are more than 104 customers at Llanidloes Barclays branch. Once again, Barclays need to be clearer with the statistics here.
  5. According to Barclays change in weekly business transactions were as follows compared to the previous:
  • Counter transactions: -12%
  • Cash Withdrawals: 0%
  • Cash deposits: -13%
  • Cheque deposits: – 13%

At face value this looks terrible, until you look at the actual numbers:

  • Counter transactions: this is only 17 fewer than the previous year.
  • Cash Withdrawals: This is the same as last year
  • Cash deposits: This is only 8 fewer than the previous year
  • Cheque deposits: This is only 9 fewer than the previous year.

What came of this meeting?

First of all, it was heartening to hear that there was not one person in that meeting who was ready to accept this decision. Many raised concerns on how this will effect businesses in the area. The very idea of having to travel to Newtown to bank money is ludicrous! I mean, a 22 mile trip which can easily take well over an hour.

It is very promising to hear that the Town Council has made progress on the issue of getting more ATMs in the town through CashZone. This will make up for losing Barclays ATM come November.

The local MP certainly got a feel of the mood in the town, and was even given an idea by the people there of bringing this issue up at the Welsh Affairs select committee when Parliament convenes; an idea he hadn’t thought of prior.

Points of action for the MP:

  1. Present an Early Day Motion on the issue in Parliament (although he admitted this wouldn’t achieve much apart from drawing attention to it).
  2. Hope to win the ballot to hold a debate on the issue.
  3. Raise this case at the Welsh Affairs Committee
  4. Raise the issue with the Secretary of State for Wales in the hope that he might bring pressure in the bank not to close the branch as soon as November.

Points of action for residents of Llanidloes:

  1. Write to Barclays (name and address will be provided by the clerk of the Town Council) expressing opposition to the closure.
  2. Write to the First Minister (and I think to the local AM and Regional AMs too).
  3. Sign the petition HERE

 

 

When buying an Audi is the “cheapest” option?

Recently elected Plaid councilor, Elwyn Vaughan, last week highlighted the outrageous fact that Powys County Council has spent £36,000 on a new Audi car for its Chairman. I’m enough of a realist to know that such things are why some people enter politics. However, it certainly stings when you see in the local press, right next to the report of the new car, an article about how the Council will be consulting the public on how to cut £200,000 from youth services.

Must cut back on Youth Service, but not the Chairman’s hot wheels

Or how about the fact that our children will start school two years later than other counties’ children in order to save money. Placing financial burden on young families of the County.

Then you have the while funding of social care and day centres for the elderly being under threat due to County Hall tightening it’s belt.

The Council’s response?

The council has issued a statement claiming that spending the £36,000 is the cheapest option for them. In the tstatement he council claims that after the Chairman’s tenure ends in a year, the car will be sold and that they will have recouped £33,000.

However, a quick look at the second hand car market prices suggest that a year old Audi A6, automatic gearbox, with 20,000 miles on the clock are going for no more than £25,500. Meaning rather than costing £3,000, the car will cost Powys citizens £10,500.

The main thrust of the Council’s argument, however, is the fact that the Chairman needs an automatic vehicle due to a disability. It is only right and proper for this to be taken into consideration, but here is where the Council’s reasoning starts to leak. Why must the car be a prestigious brand costing £36,000? Do Ford focus’ not come in automatic? Or any other make that cost far less than £36,000? Why must it also be a brand new one, which will devalue far more than a nearly new car?

The council then claims that this option is far cheaper than paying travel expenses to the Chairman, which, according to them, would amount to £7,000. Again, this is true, apart from the fact than the £7,000 is fuel costs. Surely, it will cost £7,000 on top of the £3,000 to run the expensive Audi A6? So, at best this car is costing the citizens of Powys £10,000, that is if the council gets a good price for its sale in a year’s time. So that would be £3,000 more than paying the Chairman his milage cost for his own car.

I don’t doubt that the council will recoup some of the cost of the car in a year’s time, but there are some questions that linger.

  1. Why not opt for a cheaper model?
  2. What else could that £36,000 have gone to pay for for this one year?
  3. How much is it going to cost us next year to buy another car after the sale of this one?

Another Conservative Councillor in Powys is suspended!

It was only a week ago I highlighted the fact that two Conservative councillors had been suspended recently in Powys. Today, the Council announced that a third Conservative councillor has been suspended from his duties for a period of three weeks.

Councillor Gwynfor Thomas, Llansanffraid ward, has been found guilty of breached the Code of Conduct and “bringing his office or council/authority into disrepute”.

Let’s hope this is publicised far and wide before people go to the polls in May.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 22.24.23.png

Plaid gains in Gwynedd

It’s a good news week for Plaid on the local level. Today, Plaid gained three members after they decided to cross the floor from Llais Gwynedd. Seimon Glyn (Tudweiliog Ward), Gweno Glyn (Botwnnog Ward) and Gruffydd Willaims (Nefyn Ward).  Now with 38 councillors, Plaid is in a clear majority on the council. It is certainly good to see further unity in Gwynedd against the politics of austerity that will surely come in the years ahead from central government.

Gweno-Glyn
Gweno Glyn
Simon-Glyn
Seimon Glyn
Gruffydd-Williams
Gruffydd Williams

 

 

Plaid to lead Carmarthenshire 

Finally democracy wins. Three years after the local election the largest party in Carmarthe county council gets to lead.

After a secret vote was taken by the Labour group to change leaders, the independents decided they could not no longer prop up a party that had no mandate to run the council.

Yesterday, a coalition of Plaid and independents formed the new cabinet of Carmarthenshire county council. This comes on the heels of Plaid’s increase of the share of the vote last Thursday.

A sabbatical… not to concentrate on my garden I hasten to add!

After a period of silence on this blog I make my return with news of scandal! In a local politics first for this blog, what better way to dive in than on a “scandal”. News came from Llanidloes town hall that there has been misuse of funds, in particular the use of the council groundskeeper on the private garden of the town clerk.

It would seem that the council’s groundskeeper worked on the clerk’s garden while he should have been working for the town council.  The scandal, however, comes from the fact that the town council voted to “sweep the matter under the carpet”.  According to the council, accounts are audited as required, and the auditors have not called this into question.

A petition is now doing the rounds calling for  an investigation into the matter.  I wonder whether this issue is being used by individuals who happen to be standing in the 3rd of May county council election?  Hmm….

Filming, tweeting and blogging at council meetings

It been a couple of months since I began enquiring into local authorities’ attitudes to blogging, tweeting, and in particular filming at their meetings.  All of Wales’ 22 authorities have sent a reply to my enquiry into policies they have on this issue which can be seen here.  It would seem that most councils do not have extensive or definite policies on the issue of the public filming at council meetings.  What is clear is that most councils leave permission to film at council meetings at the discretion of mayors or, in most cases to the council chairperson.  This is, of course a reasonable policy, however there are no guidelines for chairpeople to follow, which outlining under what circumstances can they allow or refuse filming.   When I attempted to ask about such guidelines my requests were refused due to their “similarity” to my initial requests.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Welsh Government has not given any information or guidance to Welsh councils on this issue.  I asked,

“Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please provide copies of
all:
A) directives
B) discussions (emails / memos)

sent to all or any Welsh councils relating to the following:

1) filming of council meetings
2) tweeting at council meetings
3) blogging of council meetings”

The response was:

“I have not found any information that fits this description. The Minister for Local Government and Communities has not issued any advice, directives or memos to Welsh councils regarding this matter.”

Of course the Welsh Government would argue that they leave such issues to the local authorities, however, this lessaiz fare attitude isn’t always the case in Welsh Government and local authority relations.

It’s up to them

Local Authorities Minister

With Carmarthenshire County Council continuing to show the rest of Wales how to avoid scrutiny and stifle the democratic process, I received a response from my regional AM concerning filming at council meetings.  Ok it wasn’t a response from my AM as such, rather it was a relaying of the Local Authorities Minister’s view.  Here’s Carl Sargeant reply.

It would seem that the minister thinks that filming without prior consent shouldn’t be allowed; fair enough say you, however this is just licence for controlling chief executives, mayors and chairpersons to avoid transparency which suppresses  local democracy.  The minister also explains that he disagrees with filming people without their knowledge and permission, again fair enough; however, councillors are public representatives and are acting publicly in council meetings, so should be ready for people to film them while debating and voting on matters that will affect their constituents.

However, I contacted the AM regarding her view on the principle of filming should be allowed in council meetings.  However, the principle isn’t expressly discussed in the reply, but the minister does outline that the Welsh Government does support councils’ engagement with the public.  The minister has not, as of yet, set out guidelines for councils on this issue as shown in my recent FOI request, he does encourage councils to make the maximum effort in engaging the public in their proceedings.  However without guidelines councils won’t do anything they don’t have to.  This is all ambiguous stuff, with the minister relying on good will, and as we have seen, some councils are short of that.

It was good to see that the minister commends Carmarthenshire’s plans to webcast proceedings, and that it is an example to other councils.  However a similar idea (Carmarthen TV) has been mooted for a while and as of yet is still to be seen.  I suppose time will tell.

Swansea, filming, photography and councillors’ privacy

Tonight I received a reply from Swansea council regarding filming and photography at council meetings.  It would seem that a councillor has already fallen foul of their policy of taking photographs at meetings, where he was forced to remove photos he had taken down from his Facebook page.

This isn’t something unusual with our local authorities.  Neither is the standing order requiring permission form the chairperson to take photographs or film at council meetings.  However, after asking, and gaining permission to take photographsother Swansea councillors objected to this claiming that it would be an invasion of their PRIVACY!!!

Below is the relevant part from the minutes of the meeting where this was discussed (31/3/11)

201. PHOTOGRAPHY AT A COUNCIL MEETING

The Leader of the Main Opposition Political Group stated that Councillor R Speht had breached Council protocol and had taken photographs at a Council meeting and had published them onto his Facebook account. He asked Councillor R Speht to remove the images and to apologise for his actions.

Councillor R Speht stated that the images had now been removed and offered a full apology to Council for his actions. He also sought permission from the Chair of Council for him to be allowed to take photographs at this Council Meeting.

The Chair of Council allowed the request.

(Note: A large number of Councillors objected to this and stated that they wished to maintain their right to privacy and that no image taken by Councillor R Speht should be published without those Councillors in the picture giving their consent.)

Surely standing, and getting elected isn’t the best idea if you want to protect your own privacy!  These people claim public money in expenses and yet are quite content in blocking transparency in their meetings!

Filming at Powys county council

Today another of my FOI came to fruition with Powys county council replying to my request about filming tweeting and blogging at their meetings.  It is quickly becoming clear that councils tend to only allow filming at meetings with permission from the chairperson.  However no council go on to clarify what the criteria chairpeople use to make the decision to allow filming or not.  Here’s what Powys has to say in their rules and procedures document,

“20.            RECORDING OF MEETINGS OF THE COUNCIL

No recording shall be made of the proceedings of meetings of the Council whether audio or visual and by whatever method except with the express authorisation of the meeting. If a person records the proceedings of any meeting (or causes such recording to be effected) without authorisation then the Chair will order their removal from the meeting room and shall not permit them to be admitted to a further meeting except on a written undertaking to desist from such recording  “

The same applies to all committee meetings.