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Bodlondeb a victim of neglect not cuts
THE Bodlondeb saga goes from bad to very bad.
We are currently faced with an apparent breach of faith by the leader of the county council. Following a fudge, a veiled threat and political blood-letting. Plus a nagging question about council voting procedure.
The coach-load and more of frustrated and angry relatives, trade unionists and concerned members of the public who filed into the council chamber in Aberaeron last week had desperately hoped to see the cabinet finally throw out its heavily criticised plan to shut the council-run Penparcau care home and decant its residents into a private sector unit three miles away.
If they get away with it, a group of elderly and vulnerable people will be deprived of their much-loved home-from-home and separated from a community with which they have enduring family and social ties.
It’s a plan that has been thoroughly discredited. Not least because of deep annoyance over the authority’s transparently false claim that Bodlondeb, which needs a distinctly moderate amount of money spending on it, is a casualty of the current squeeze on public sector budgets.
It is in fact a victim of a long-standing council failure to properly maintain its fabric, and to carry out legally required improvements, during years when there was so much money around the authority decided to build itself new offices costing more than £15m. At a time when keeping Bodlondeb up to scratch would have cost about £250,000 - spread over more than five years.
For the campaigners who had traipsed down to Aberaeron, it became evident they were in for a long wait. There was no need for Bodlondeb to be allotted an agenda slot virtually at the end of this three hours-plus cabinet meeting. But it was, and it was a needless insensitivity.
Hopes that the cabinet might see the light flickered briefly when, to general amazement, Labour’s Hag Harris, who leads social services, backed by Aberystwyth Lib Dem Ceredig Davies, the member for education, brought cheering Bodlondeb supporters to their feet by calling for the residents to be left where they were.
It was a challenge to the council’s executive and leadership of a boldness and assertiveness rarely seen in this cabinet and was aimed at derailing a proposal moments earlier by council leader Keith Evans for the matter to be referred back to a full council budget working party, Evans indicating that any money that might be found for Bodlondeb would be at the expense of spending elsewhere. While adding the veiled threat that there could nevertheless be a decision to “wind down” Bodlondeb over time.
It was a dramatic moment, the radiating intensity of Keith’s irritation at this shocking rebellion being felt like a blast of hot air even at the back of the chamber. But Harris and Davies were hung out to dry, not a single one of five other cabinet members present giving them backing. Not even the one other Aberystwyth member, Lib Dem Carl Williams, who uttered not a word. Roll on next year’s council elections, people murmured.
But in the turmoil of the moment something strange happened. Evans sought votes in favour of the Harris amendment, but did not go on to ask who was against, or who was abstaining.
It was straight on to the next business. The council’s constitution says that “any matter will be decided by a simple majority of those members voting and present in the room at the time the question was put.”
The trouble is that there is no way of knowing whether a simple, or any other, majority exists without establishing the voting intentions of all voting members. An illustration: it is entirely possible that, in the vote on Hag’s amendment, one of the five remaining members present may have voted against, and four may have indicated that they were abstaining. In which case Hag’s amendment would have been carried.
The council told me: “The steps quoted by you are not required to be taken.” I’m still waiting to be told why.
And Keith Evans’s apparent breach of faith? He told the meeting he would be happy for the budget working party to meet in public. The council now says it won’t. Votes of confidence all round.
with Patrick O'Brien
‘Sledgehammers and nuts’
IT’S been selective, these politicians’ expressions of slightly pious contempt for all that is contemptible in what is a tiny fraction of the British press.
Yes, feel revulsion about the hacking of a murdered girl’s mobile phone, about intrusions into the private lives of thousands. Compare it to finding your home burgled.
Yet MPs properly critical of outrageous journalists, and of investigators in their pay, have said little about ministers who courted Rupert Murdoch. He used his vast corporate media power to shape election agendas, and parties tailored policies to get his approval. Did voters know they were being manipulated?
Meanwhile, beware draconian new press regulation. Maybe 300 journalists hacked and bribed. Set that against a UK total of between 40,000 and 50,000 who didn’t. Sledgehammers and nuts come to mind.