Thursday, June 01, 2006

BCBC Electoral Services in disarray

The events of the last few weeks at Bridgend County Borough Council have troubled many people, and you will all know my view on what's gone on there.

It is a fact that there are serious management problems at the council and that the Welsh Local Government Association has been brought in to try to help.

It is a fact that the Electoral Services department is in turmoil. We are awaiting a report about the serious situation there, and I have already seen one report that causes me cause for concern about the state of the service.

It is a fact that children's social services is in a dire state. Despite great efforts by the staff there the problems seem to remain. Nobody can be happy that a service dedicated to children is in trouble.

There are of course other departments within the council who are doing a good job, and there are many officers who are very good at what they do. Unfortunately, there are still serious problems in the structure of the council which remain unresolved.

None of these problems are new. I have been writing to Keri Lewis, the Chief Returning Officer, for some years about the state of electoral services in the council, as have many of my colleagues. The 1999 Assembly election was a shambles, with ballot papers being thrown onto a stage which the public had access to. I have also been concerned for years that people have been deprived of the ability to vote because polling stations have been closed. Despite the fact that portable cabins are used as polling stations elsewhere, BCBC refuse to use them as a cost cutting initiative. This means that the people of Old Brackla and Brackla Meadows don't have a polling station, and that perfectly acceptable stations like St Illtyd's Church Hall were closed. The council should look at opening more stations, not closing them down.

Yet despite all this, senior council officers are being offered incredibly generous retirement packages, sometimes even with the promise of a reference for another job! This is why I am critical of the Rainbow Alliance and the way they have handled things. Why should council taxpayers foot the bill? Why should voluntary organisations not get funding from BCBC when they can find hundreds of thousands of pounds to allow officers to retire early at a time when the council is in turmoil? We've never had an answer.

It's in nobody's interest to have a council in this state, and the new Chief Executive will have my full support to try to turn things around. The council needs strong leadership, and only he can give it.

The people of Bridgend deserve nothing less.

(Article first published in the Glamorgan Gazette)