Ceredigion County Council usually sends up to 10 delegates, comprising mainly of elected members and some officials. I've never attended before in my 8 years on the County Council but as the newly elected Vice Chair of Council, felt that it was worthwhile for me to put my name forward.
So, along with fellow Welsh Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Paul Hinge, the Independent Leader and Deputy Leader of Council Cllr Keith Evans and Cllr Ray Quant and the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Plaid Cymru opposition Cllr Ellen ap Gwynne and Cllr Paul James as well Plaid Cymru Councillors Ian ap Dewi and Lyndon Lloyd, I spent an informative few days at the heart of Welsh Local Government.
The main conference was on Thursday and was chaired by the BBC journalist Rhun ap Iorwerth . We heard first of all from First Minister Carwyn Jones and then from his Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant. Now I have some time for Mr Sargeant because unlike some of his predecessors, I feel that he at least has a feeling for local government having been a Councillor previously before he was elected to the Assembly. The fact that he turned up to the pre-conference reception the evening before as an example, for a small thing, went down well. His message though was quite forthright and he pulled no punches.
|Carl Sargeant AM|
Councils must collaborate closer with each other to ensure a better level of service and for better value was the thrust of his speech. If we didn't do so quickly enough, he would willingly legislate to do so. But how? By forcing upon us the local government re-organisation which he stated was not on the table at this time? He had I felt a reasonable reception for his words but then those that were expressed immediately following in the panel debate afterwards by Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams AM, Plaid Cymru's Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM and the Conservatives' Janet Finch-Saunders AM were even better received and they were critical of his no nonsense stance.
Because here's the thing. Councils are collaborating (what an awful word with negative war-time conotations!) with each other more so than ever before and here in Ceredigion we can see that with greater workings with Powys on issues such as Social Services and Highways related matters. No one size solution fits all here so his protestations were perhaps ill-placed no matter how well meaning his sentiments may have been.
We had a speech as well from the leader of the WLGA, the Independent leader of Pembrokeshire County Council Cllr John Davies. John spoke very well and also spoke magmanimously for Aled Roberts and John Dixon - two former hard-working members of the WLGA who face a critical week in their political lives as they wait to see whether the Assembly re-instate them as Assembly Member this coming Wednesday. John also announced his intention to stand down as leader of both the WLGA and of Pembrokeshire County Council when those terms end next May. I was surprised to hear him say that but then I'm told that he did state back in 2004 that he would only serve two terms as leader of Pembrokeshire County Council and he's keeping to his word. It was a very statesmanlike speech though I probably should declare an interest here as John is my second cousin!
We had an useful workshop on collaboration in the afternoon and another panel discussion, this time on Wales' political place within the United Kingdom. In all, it was a worthwhile and productive day.
A Party Political Truce
What was also very pleasant was the atmosphere surrounding the conference. As a Ceredigion unit, we were all stationed in the Ramada Hotel (after the Marriott Hotel admitted to over-booking and having to move our reservation!) and on the Wednesday evening following the pre-conference reception, we all came back to the Ramada for a meal. I'd been told that in years past, the Ceredigion contingent would always eat together in perfect harmony even though as members of opposing political parties and none, we'd often bark at each other across the Council Chamber floor from time-to-time.
But the atmosphere between us all was great and it followed the following evening at the formal Conference Dinner at the Marriott when again, 7 of Councillors along with our Chief Executive Bronwen Morgan, all had an enjoyable evening in each others company. This is how it should be because the one bound that unified us all there was a desire to serve our respective wards and its residents in the county of Ceredigion.
It must be said that I don't think that every Council in Wales could've done the same as us. I certainly saw Powys share a table to their credit but I very much doubt what with all of the seemingly personal animosity between the main protagonists that the same could be said of Carmarthenshire.
Indeed, the evening and conference finished very nicely with an impromptu gathering of enthusiastic singers from across Wales and from across the party political spectrum in the corner of the bar as we sang Welsh hymns, rugby songs and popular tunes from popular culture. A rather surreal but enjoyable part of it was harmonising with a Plaid Cymru Councillor from Caerphilly as we led this mini-Glee Club gathering into a rendition of the Beach Boys hit 'Sloop John B'!
We sang then that 'I want to go home', but now that I am back here a few days later in Cardigan, it'll be back to the day-to-day political reality of Ceredigion politics. But it was nice to have that truce in the WLGA conference and to remind ourselves that at the end of day, we are all just human beings doing our best for our communities.