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Rene Kinzett

Bringing home the bacon

September 5th, 2010 by René Kinzett

The Liberal Democrat Leader of Swansea Council, Chris Holley, has written an extraordinary letter to Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, asking for investment and other favours from Government for the City of Swansea. Perhaps not unusual for a Council Leader to be batting for their city? However, read the letter posted above and you will see (apart from the appalling grammar – at least one 6 line paragraph containing one sentence and no punctuation whatsoever)  that Councillor Holley’s plea for intervention from his LibDem pal in Westminster is not so much to do with economic regeneration for a city much in need of properly planned investment, but rather to boost the flagging election prospects of their party locally.

I was (for 2 years) a member of the ruling Liberal Democrat/Independent/Whoeverwantstojoinus coalition on Swansea Council and I saw at first hand the lack of intelligence, imagination and political nous of those who hold the top jobs in the Cabinet. Most observers agree that the quality of leadership in our city is dire. However, what has also now been exposed is the level of political mendacity, partisanship and cynicism which really underpins the coalition. If Councillor Holley thinks there is nothing wrong in pleading for special favours from Government simply for party political advantage, then my Deputy Leader was right when he accused the ruling group of lacking any form of “moral compass”.

Wales’ second city is being led by a paranoid coalition convinced that every other party or branch of government is out to get it and do the city down. The truth of the matter is that a coalition with no political mandate, no agreed plan to govern the city by and no commonly-held philosophy is doomed to fail and take the fortunes of our city down with it. I am heartened that, at last, the national media in Wales is picking up on the mess that is Swansea Council and I can only hope that our local media take the issue of the good governance of our city more seriously in future.

I have no real hope that the few sensible and intelligent Liberal Democrat Councillors in Swansea will actually do the right thing and remove Councillor Holley from his post and give us someone more capable of doing the job of Leader of the Council, but I do expect a few of them to reach for the forms and make a complaint to the Ombudsman about how beastly I’ve been to them in this blog.

UPDATE: The Leader of Swansea Council has responded through an article in today’s South Wales Evening Post.

Scientologists, stupidity and old duffer councillors

August 5th, 2010 by René Kinzett

The case of Cardiff Liberal Democrat Councillor John Dixon has highlighted yet again the mess of the bureaucratic and undemocratic Local Government Standards regime.

John Dixon’s tweet may have been insulting to the Scientologists and their, frankly, bizarre and cranky set of “beliefs”, but what on earth is this to do with an unelected and unaccountable bureaucrat? If the content of the tweet were libelous, then let the Church of Scientology muster their considerable wealth and sue Cllr Dixon. If the tweet was likely to cause a breach of the peace or else fell foul of the various incitement or other criminal laws, then let the police investigate the matter.

However, it was left to a complaint to the “whingers post box”, AKA the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. Don’t get me wrong, there is most definitely a need for an office to investigate claims of maladministration brought by members of the public who feel that the local authority or other public bodies have not followed procedures properly or else have shown them extremely poor levels of service. But why do we need a whole raft of civil servants to investigate the bizarre claims of politically-motivated individuals who, not content with losing the argument at the ballot box, want to try to undermine elected representatives via the Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct for Local Government was a knee-jerk reaction by the previous Labour Government. The aim may have been to prevent corruption, to ensure that elected councillors did not misuse or abuse their positions in terms of offering help to applicants for lucrative planning schemes and so forth. But the provisions of the Code and the resultant investigative aparatus (in Wales the PSOW and Standards for England the other side of Offa’s Dyke) take this well intentioned proposal and has turned it into a Kafkaesque nightmare, where elected officials can have their every utterance taken down and used against them in some quasi-judicial process. A process which defies rules of natural justice and denies defendants the usual protections of a tribunal, including the denial of the right to confront one’s accusers in public forum. Indeed, in a recent decision concerning the accusations levelled against 32 Members of the Opposition on Swansea Council, the PSOW wrote to the accused telling them whilst the proceedings has been dropped, the case would be kept on file and would be taken into account and used against any Member should further allegations be made against them.

Before the John Dixon case blew up and was even reported in The Times by Danny Finkelstein, I was wondering whether the Ombudsman had something of a fixation on Swansea, given the number of odd complaints the office has decided to investigate over recent years. Back in 2004, the Ombudsman investigated the nonsense claims against the Leader of the Labour Opposition for being beastly to the newly-elected LibDem/Con/Independent Administration during the first Council Meeting following the elections. More recently, my own comments regarding the age profile of Swansea Council has put me in hot water and I am now facing proceedings following the complaints from a Liberal Democrat and an Independent Councillor. I have written in more depth about this matter over on Wales Home.

There seems to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the future of our local democracy. The Conservatives pledged to abolish Standards for England in their pre-election Green Paper on localism and decentralisation “Control Shift”. The pledge has been reiterated by the Minister for Local Government Andrew Stunnell MP in the House of Commons. My hope now is that the Welsh Assembly Government and Westminster can get talking about ending the power of the PSOW to interfere in legitimate political debate as soon as possible.

Rowan Williams Conferred the Freedom of the City & County of Swansea

July 31st, 2010 by René Kinzett

Speech by Councillor René Kinzett, Leader of the Conservative Group, City & County of Swansea, in the Guildhall Council Chamber, Swansea, on the occasion of the conferring of the Freedom of the City & County of Swansea on the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Saturday 31 July 2010…

Your Grace, Lord Mayor, Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff,  My Lords, Distinguished Guests.

It gives me great pleasure to support the motion that the City & County of Swansea confers the Honorary Freedom of the City & County of Swansea on The Most Reverend and Right Honourable The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England and Metropolitan, Dr Rowan Williams.

Your Grace:

We are truly honoured and humbled at the conferring of the Freedom of the City upon you this day.

This is an honour for Swansea, and one that the whole city will want to rejoice in: that a Dynevor schoolboy can return to this Hall as the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England. The first Welshman to succeed St Augustine of Canterbury and the first Archbishop to be appointed from outside the Church of England since the mid-thirteenth century.

The importance of the written record and history is not lost on Your Grace. We visited your London residence, the historic and beautiful Lambeth Palace to see the Treasures of Lambeth Exhibition. Reading King James I’s own hand written commentary, in the margin of a book rejecting the case being made for greater religious tolerance, we know that history will record that Your Grace was thankfully at the fore of promoting tolerance, understanding and cooperation amongst the religions and peoples of this world.

What also struck me about the Exhibition was the diversity of the collections held at Lambeth. Not just the history of the church, or of Christianity or other religions, but of wider social, political and international affairs. History will also record that Your Grace is, thankfully, not unknown in terms of his own contributions to debate on domestic and international issues.

Today’s commentators may take issue with what they see as “controversial” positions taken by Your Grace, but such analysis is often based on misunderstandings or deliberate mischief making. The future archives of Lambeth Palace will, no doubt, provide historians with a fascinating glimpse of your time as Archbishop.

The pride that the people of Swansea take in seeing a son of the City holding such high office is reflected in today’s conferring of the Freedom, an honour Your Grace richly deserves.

Lord Mayor, I support the Motion.