Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Helping Others - 10 Years as a Ceredigion County Councillor

The 9th of June 2003 was the worst day of my life as my father departed this life and left a bereaved family in his wake.

My 2004 election
The following year was particularly tough. His first birthday, the first Christmas, the first New Year after his passing - they're always the toughest. It accumulated in the first anniversary of his loss a year later. Which made the following day, significant in an additional way.

For the 10th of June 2004 saw me standing in front of Cardigan Guildhall, welcoming voters to the polling booth in the traditional Cardigan way, alongside other Cardigan town candidates in the local authority elections of that year.

Head-to-Head - The Tivy Side article on the eve of the
election in 2004.
I was only 21 and despite living in Aberystwyth at the time (where I also stood for Aberystwyth Town Council), I had ventured over the previous 3 weeks to knock on every door in what was the newly created ward of Cardigan Rhyd-Y-Fuwch. I had no expectation of winning but wanted to give local residents a choice - and it was a choice between myself or my 73 year old Plaid Cymru opponent Melfydd George.

The count itself that evening was an emotional one. My mother, as well as her cousin Beatrice Davies and my eldest brother Huw all came along and in the emotional context of this being 366 days after the death of William Lance Cole, the last thing our nerves really needed was a nail-biting finish in the ward count - but that's what we got. In the end, amidst some tears and an over-riding sense of fatigue, that then green 21 year old squeezed home an unexpected winner with the wafer-thin majority of 18 votes.

The Cambrian News article from the
17th June - except I was actually only
the 4th youngest Welsh Councillor!
The Chains of Office
It has been the greatest privilege over the following 10 years to have served the residents of my ward to the best of my ability. This was made much easier when I moved permanently to live in town in the December of 2005. Until then, I combined my commitments with those of also being an elected Town Councillor in Aberystwyth (by a 19 vote majority!) - as Charles Kennedy the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats called it in a personally hand-written letter to me the week after the election, 'a veritable double whammy'!

I stood down from Aberystwyth in 2008 and stood for Cardigan Town Council to better compliment my county council duties and at the latter level, was returned with 86% of the vote and within a year, was being sworn in as one of Cardigan's youngest-ever Mayors at age 26. Come 2012, re-election with 76% of the vote quickly followed with my being sworn in as Ceredigion County Council's youngest-ever Chairman at age 29.

Throughout those years, I have kept resolutely to a philosophy of being approachable and open to the residents of my ward (and sometimes beyond!), working without favour and regardless of politics. Over the years, as a community we have resolved the troublesome 'Tesco Junction', seen Cardigan Castle slowly emerge from the shadows and watched as the Bathhouse and 'balls on the river' sagas nearly tore our town in two. We continue to fight for proper in-patient beds in our new 'Hospital' and we await news on whether Sainsbury's will actually move into Bathhouse after all...or not.

Western Mail article from 14th June 2004 - except I
was actually only the 4th youngest Welsh Councillor!
In the meantime, as well as these bigger things, I've continued to the best of my ability to help with those little things that make a big difference to the quality of life of those living in our community - fixing those pot-holes, mending those broken street lights, and getting the grass cut. It may not be sexy politics, but it's what counts.

It's a matter of remembering that the role of the local Councillor is to be 'the voice of the community in the Council' as opposed to being 'the voice of the Council in the community' which inevitably is what many Councillors become after unwittingly 'going native' after many years on the Council.

Within that Council, based in Aberaeron, I have had good relations with colleagues of all political colours. Indeed, only today an external advisor from the Centre for Public Scrutiny, reporting back on his observations of Ceredigion's scrutiny process, stated that...

"Relationships between Cabinet and Scrutiny appear to be generally sound and there is evidence of mature attitudes, goodwill, mutual respect and good personal relationships".

The hand-written letter from Charles
Kennedy MP, then leader of the
Liberal Democrats.
This is pleasing to read because, as boring as it may sound, this is actually the case. Despite political and policy differences, I have always found working with my Council colleagues to be more a pleasure than a burden. We get on well individually and as a result, the scrutiny relationship between executive and legislature is more productive.

But it's the residents back in Cardigan that matter most.

The Future 
It's a wonderfully fickle thing, the future.

Losing Dad aged 20 on the eve of my graduation in Aberystwyth University forced me to instill in myself a steely resolve to live my life to the full and a life-long desire to help others and make a difference in life flowed naturally from that.

Whatever the future may hold, I can look back with pride at having, above all else, served the wonderful residents of Cardigan Rhyd-Y-Fuwch Ward on Ceredigion County Council for over a decade.

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