Below are some recent responses to the memo sent out about "Quango Quandaries" where Sue Essex AM and Peter Law AM were quoted. The issues in the responses below also strongly relate to Recommendations 16 and 30 of the Action Plan which is presently out for public consultations.
"Are the Parks quangos?" Seems to be a vital question, particularly just now for Labour AMs. Some of them like Sue Essex have wanted to pretend the NPAs are part of local government so that they can wash their hands of them when they do unpopular things. At the same time behind the scenes they protect (with the help of their civil servants) some of the permanent officials who would long ago have been driven out by any kind of democratic local electoral process. Thus they keep control of Park policy without being seen to do so. So the "autonomous" bit of QUANGO goes by the board”.
I was interested to read Peter Law AM's opinions and his call for 100% directly elected members to the Parks.
How would Peter Law react to a national park being in the very middle of his constituency?
How would Peter Law like to be a county councillor and find his ward occupied by another local planning authority in the form of a national park whose member was also "directly elected”. Is there not a conflict here? Given this situation would Mr Law feel 100% confident that he was fully able to represent his ward?
What is it actually like for county councils such as Powys who have to work alongside these "quangos" and end up with virtually no influence at all? Would a national park with 100% of its members directly elected improve the lot of Powys CC's working relationship with its park? Of course not, Powys CC’s influence would disappear altogether. Then how is this problem of democratic representation resolved? Nominating all members through a collegiate system seems to be the only way forward?
As the minister Carwyn Jones wants it to be an "all or nothing" scenario, then logically this rules out the “100% directly elected” option. Thus we are left with “nomination” through the collegiate system. This could only work democratically if the nominated members were restricted to only those who are the representatives of wards within the parks. Then the parks need to change their codes of practice to allow councillors to represent those who live within their wards. However, something has to happen to the panels of selected assembly appointees if the Parks are to become democratic as well as a national organisation. The suggestion that government appointees should form part of an overseeing body or HQ in Cardiff seems to be the answer and the ideal place for them. It would be good to hear views from local government officials, county councillors and the WLGA on these matters
“The writer of the attachment is quite right to draw attention to the anomalous position of the local authority nominated members of NPAs. In practice these people should be foremost in asserting the true localness and independence of these LPAs. They either have their hands tied by being obliged to support a management plan in which they have had little or no say, or by threats to their freedom of speech as "interested parties" when they speak upon local issues of which they have personal knowledge. Then again if they represent wards outside the National Park they either have little interest or knowledge of a local park problem and carry little influence as well.”
“The public are demanding more accountability not less. Who is executive of a national park accountable to? They are not accountable to the nominated county councillors as these councillors’ powers are neutered by such factors as the government appointee system. And neither are the members accountable to the public, as the membership rules do not allow them to directly represent anyone. And furthermore, the serious complaints that end up with the minister or ombudsman tend to get neutered by that arm's length process as well. The checks and balances of accountability are much more rigorous and direct in the democratically run unitary authorities. The Parks simply get away with it, and that has become extremely evident and very scandalous."
The Minister seems to be pushing everyone into a tight corner. Unless you have an HQ for the three parks and their government appointees, then you cannot have a 100% directly elected members. Then given that, a 100% directly elected members would be another layer of local government, which would conflict badly with neighbouring or overlapping authorities. For most of us the problem is development control, and the easiest answer to that is remove it from the parks altogether. But Carwyn Jones seems to want to keep that for the parks. So it looks like the Minister is up for no changes at all and a lot more deterioration of standards and good will. Instead the Minister and his civil servants seem to condone more controls over members, stricter protocols and induction courses etc, to a point where members are rendered completely benign. If democratic improvements are not made to practice in general, and the nomination or election of members, then it looks like we are on a fast track to central control or a goose step short of the Fourth Reich.
PUFF PARK TALK
Lets look at the socio-economic record of the parks. Their statutory duty in regard to fostering the well being of their local communities - or the crass idea the LUC Review had for turning the parks' inept record of incompetence into a third purpose. Now the government in their “action plan” are watering it down to first stop shops and other forms of hyperbole which in reality will never work.
The parks have had 10 years to prove themselves as autonomous LPAs. They have clearly not delivered and they are clearly not qualified. There has not been a review or inquiry that has focussed critically upon this aspect.
Take one example: A small first tier town called Talgarth in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. Once prosperous now run down. They say its taken over 30 years to get a by-pass. It has suffered the closure of the Mid Wales Hospital and hundreds of job losses. On top of that the parks make a complete pigs ear of that socio- planning situation. Then there was the new health centre that had 3 centre of town options to build on. The parks made another pigs ear of that too. It was built on the edge of town on a green field site, in a flood path across from a main road , without an underpass or zebra crossing for the elderly, children or those in wheel chairs. Once there was a good sized retail core in the centre of town then the parks gave that away to housing . The list is endless. Talgarth would have done better if a bomb had dropped on it. Now the BBNPA are talking of another regeneration program ! Fancy that - having done nothing with the first one ten years ago, other than removing the remaining guts from the town. If you fail one town you have failed them all.
Its not about giving the parks more duties, it should be about giving them less. Then let the professionals in the unitary authorities deal with the planning and economic development. Leave the parks to fauna, flora, birds and bees and a splash of education and tourism. Thats enough for them and that addresses their statutory purposes. And finally lets hope the government and civil servants back off with their puff park talk and empire building nonsense.The parks are quangos and there is always a bonfire.
SOULLESS CARBON JOKES
Obviously the assembly government under Sue Essex and Carwyn Jones has failed to deliver an objective review and assessment of the national parks and how badly they are run. The LUC review was all to ready to criticise county council members and put halos on the executive, management and appointee system. Little do they know, or were LUC instructed to protect darlings and find scapegoats?
If the government does not wish to expose the parks for what they are, then its down to web sites such as this. Hopefully we can look forward to some exposures about parks' management from first hand experience. It would also be good to hear of some park successes. The idea of anonymity should be fruitful..
Did you know on spell -check that Sue Essex comes up as “Soulless” and Carwyn Jones as “Carbon Jokes”
The idea of an HQ sounds good if you think it through. For a start it would mean you could cut down on the three chief executives as you would only need one. Then three central administrations, personnel and legal services. Perhaps the Parks could be run as a wing or part of CCW as well ? Hopefully the government has researched this as it seems pretty obvious . Rationalisation could be the answer to better efficiency and to making savings across board . If the three parks were seen as one national body then funding could be centralised and better positioned in regard to the EU and Westminster. At the moment we have three egos trying to turn their three back yards into empires. In fact they are local parks not 'national'. If you want 'national parks' then throw them all together and make one for each country. England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. What do you think ?
31st October '04
BABY & BATHWATER
I have had a look at your website but I have to say I have some problems with your advocating direct election to National Parks as a panacea. The current system, though "undemocratic" actually follows the funding trails for the Parks though not in "democratic" proportions. Residents of the Parks are already disproportionately represented. IF you follow funding trails. (I do not want to take this argument too strongly, preferring to see the funding as a measure of redistribution of which I am in favour). I think I am correct that 3/4 of the National Park's funding comes from central govrnment, and 1/4 from the Local Authority or Authorities that the Park lies in. In Parc Eryri, there is so small a part of Powys that they would have less than a whole person. Of the 12 LA-nominated members, 9 are from Gwynedd and 3 from Conwy. Between them these two Authorities provide 1/4 of the funding for the Park's budget. The 6 Assembly nominated members are there to represent the wider public, and to provide some expertise in fields such as architecture & construction, forestry, archaeology, tourism industry etc that the LA nominated members may lack. The populations living around the Park also use the Park for recreation and sometimes for livelihood so it is appropriate that members of the LA elected by those populations should be appointed to the Park Authority. I am not familiar with the backgrounds of the members in Brecon and Pembroke, nor with their day-to-day practice as an Authority. Here in Eryri, the LA members do mostly live in the Park itself or in the settlements bordering the Park, and have put themselves forward in the Local Authority to be nominated to the Park because they do take an interest in representing the poeple in the Park. The Assembly nominated members either live or work or both in the Park.
I would be worried by direct election for the following reasons:
1) Elected members come under very strong pressure from some members of their electorate to represent them very narrowly and with little regard for the long term or wider issues. So, for instance, caravan park owners or battling neighbours or the fishing fraternity might be drumming up a lot of support for, or opposition to, some development in one member's constituency. As the direct representative of that constituency, that member feels he has to argue on behalf of the lobby. Sometimes he does so knowing he will be outvoted - and is relieved when he is outvoted - but he can honestly say to the lobbyist "I did my best for you" and get them off his back. The grievance is the turned towards the Park Authority not the member. If members were explicitly elected directly to the Park to represent geographical areas, they would all be under this kind of pressure and Park business would be largely local rivalries between interest groups. Also, the link with the LA would be lost. It is already hard enough to keep joined-up working across the Park/County boundaries.
2) The second reason is more to do with the nature of democracy as we currently operate it in this country and I do not see an easy resolution. With the current foolishly simplistic two-party system, if people vote at all they vote for the lesser of two evils. Or, they make a protest vote (Plaid Cymru, though rock-solid up here is a protest vote at Westminster level). We need to make reforms that will really bite on issues such as reducing use of fossil fuels, reducing food miles, higher taxes on higher income earners to support public transport, state pensions and affordable housing etc, but in these areas no politician can lead. No-one will vote for someone standing up and inviting you to work harder for less. If we are to avoid an environmental calamity and social chaos, the leadership will have to come from the public, and from the voluntary sector. There are several individual Local Authorities across the UK that have gone way ahead of government policy on issues such as waste handling, energy production. There is little enough scope for Park members to affect issues of this magnitude but at least they can shape Park policies in the longer term interest of the Park and the people who live there, and this may not be the current short-term interest. (e.g. stocking levels or use of fertilizers). At present, the nominated members are respectively one and two steps away from election so that they are able to consider some of these long-term issues. If needing every three years so stand for election, it would be harder even than it is now to consider long-term projects, and to ensure that regional, national or UK-wide or overseas experience was built upon, or that less articulate voices were heard.
I don't know what problems there may be or have been in Brecon, but if you need clean bathwater down there please don't throw out the baby even though it is a funny little creature.
October 2004 Eryri/ Snowdon
1/11/04 BRECON BEACONS
No signs of a baby here, just rubber ducks.
Same here, but a smaller tub.
Nota good idea to give this government any ideas about centralisation. Best left alone. The last thing on their mind is fair play for the Parks. Rhodri Morgan wants to rule not govern. Power wise they are as hungry as wolves. The soft targets are quangos. The Tourist Board , ELWA, WDA are for starters and now it is rumoured the Parks and Arts Council. All a pathetic knock on effect due to Rhodri Morgan's compromise with the Richard Commission and his lack of bottle.
One park for Wales is a bit of an ideal. Would the government be capable of the extra work and would they really want it ? Many see the Parks' main fault as being their lack of accountability. That can be sorted out. But a lot depends on the quality of membership and whether the right checks and balances are in place. Making changes is not easy when executives have been used to a straight run of procedural and democratic abuses for well over ten years ? One of the areas of membership that has gone unquestioned is the assembly appointee system. Part of their job is to oversee, but in reality it appears they are sworn in as rubber stamps to prop up rotten executives. Exactly how and who selects the appointees ? That needs public scrutiny in itself. . How many of them are actual experts in the areas needed to run an NPA? Why should that 33% quota have voting powers ?
Good point by the writer of the 10th of October - about the "autonomous" part of "Quango" being absent from how the parks are actually run . It is widely known the Welsh Office and Assembly have enjoyed an arms length, yet informal arrangement with the Parks for some time. The government can lean on them, pull strings and exert considerable influence ( eg gravel reserves ). In turn they can cast a blind eye to a multitude of sins and incompetence. No government would throw this advantage away. In other words ministers and civil servants make hay with the "not so formal relationship" with their "pet parks" , and the unwritten powers they hold over them. The chances of developing such relations with democratically run local authorities is nil. For a start they can't plant unelected appointees into the system.
The thread of merging all the parks into one seems to have surfaced from Carwyn Jones' inflexibility - "All elected or none at all" If you watched the EPC meeting on November 3rd you would have seen Glyn Davies lampoon the minister for ruling out the 20% quota of directly elected members to the Parks. Glyn Davies effectively accused the minister of creating a ploy for making no changes at all , as a 100% directly elected membership was not a possibility. He went on to criticise the minister for not stating the reasons behind his opinions. Judging from the minister's embarrassed look, he may well have to revisit this issue and offer some kind of an explanation.
Re: EPC Meeting Nov 3rd
It was also worth noting Glyn Davies' plea to the minister to offer a concession to the public to make them feel less alienated by the Parks . He maintained that 20% directly elected members was cautious, and it was working in Scotland. Helen Mary Jones saw development control as the problem. She remained critical of the government and LUC report as they had failed to address this controversial area. In the previous plenary debate Carwyn Jones said that he thought development control should stay within the parks. His stock answer was as usual hollow :- “in my opinion” with nothing else to back it up.
I am baffled - why should a few directly elected members cause so much consternation ? . It could hardly rock the boat and it would certainly make people feel more engaged with the park they live in. That would be a positive move. Is it called social inclusion ?. Is Carwyn Jones a conservative at heart or is he afraid of change ?
In the last committee meeting Helen Mary Jones suggested that the government has no intentions of making any meaningful changes to the parks on the grounds that it sort of works. So, the principle of best not to mess with it , prevails . Carwyn Jones & Co. do not live in the Parks. Therefore it makes no difference to them . They are not aware of the ingrown culture and attitude
COLLEGIATE SYSTEM VERSUS DIRECT ELECTIONS
Not enough thought has been given to the collegiate system which is probably the most practical and possible. Some members being directly elected and not others seems rather cumbersome and uneven as Carwyn Jones has more or less said . The college system would engage community and town council in the nomination and election of members. How it is set up and organised is another matter , but it should be possible. You would probably have to split the parks into about eight even areas of population and then these colleges would nominate who they wanted . There would be no need for all members to be county councillors , as presumably some could be town or community councillors.
Involving town and community councils would open up the grass roots element. There are hundreds of them and they rarely connect with each on anything . So this would be one of the good benefits which would bring them together and make them feel part of a wider picture. An elected/nominated member would no doubt feel accountable to the college or area they came from , instead of feeling like someone who has been flown in. There are organisations like "One Voice Wales" and Welsh Local Government Association that could play a fundamental part in the organising of it.
As town , community and county councillors are directly elected or have been through the democratic process , and then something like the National Parks is thrown over them, then it seems ridiculous to create another layer of directly elected government to mimic the situation.. The Parks are formostly an authority that has grown out of Local Government. Therefore, its seems right that its membership should reflect that. The problem is to make the membership connect with the ground. The electorial college process would seem to be a way of dealing with that. Direct elections are not the only way to achieve democratic representation.