Pale stale and male

I was in the reception of Blaenau Gwent council offices this week when I met Brian Scully, a Labour councillor for the past 46 years, who jokingly declared himself to be "pale, stale and male".

The context was that I'd just been to interview the Minister for Public Services Leighton Andrews in the Gwent Archives about his proposal to introduce a 25 year limit for councillors in order to break up what he called the old boy network and the cosy cabals.

Mr Scully summed up the feeling that I suspect will be shared by many veteran councillors that the only people who should decide if he no longer has anything to offer should be the voters themselves.

The limit for council cabinet members is 10 years.

The aim is to encourage younger people and more woman into local government. That won't be easy when the message is that many senior councillors are overpaid and if you are elected the budgets you work with will be squeezed in an age of austerity.


The term limits will in particular try to deal with the fact that around 10% of council seats are uncontested.

Most people would accept that these are pretty long stints but there'll be plenty of others who agree with Brian Scully, particularly when there are no limits elsewhere.

Jane Hutt and Edwina Hart have been in the Welsh government's cabinet for 15 years and then at Westminster Ann Clwyd has recently decided to stand again. She is 77 and has been an MP since 1984.

A lot has been made recently about pay levels for council chief executives but Leighton Andrews believes that cabinet members and council leaders are overpaid.

There are around 1,200 councillors in Wales with a basic salary of £13,300.

Good cop

The pay scales of cabinet members vary. The leaders of the largest councils like Cardiff and RCT receive £53,000, medium sized authorities like Bridgend and Wrexham get £48,000 and smaller ones like Blaenau Gwent and Anglesey receive £43,000.

So the leader of Cardiff Council, Phil Bale, is paid £53,000, which is less than the £54,000 paid to a backbench assembly member, and yet it will be pointed out that Mr Bale is responsible for an organisation with a budget of close to £1bn.

There's also a recommendation from an independent panel for AMs to receive an 18% pay increase which will inevitably be raised by local government.

So that's the bad cop. The good cop bit of the white paper which was published by the Welsh government this week is about cutting bureaucracy.

Councils complain all the time that devolution has simply heaped regulations and targets on them in areas like social services and education.

More powers

This was reflected in the findings of the Williams Commission, which portrayed a picture of a hugely complex Welsh public sector.

Leighton Andrews is promising to simplify the entire system. We talk a lot about simplifying powers between the UK and Welsh governments but this will be the first in-depth look at the system connecting the assembly and councils.

Sorry for the jargon here, but there is also the prospect of greater powers for councils in what is called powers of general competence.

An example of where this is useful would be where an authority has to deal with abusive graffiti on a building and under the current system they don't have the ability to act quickly because of a lack of power.

The white paper doesn't deal with the elephant in room, which is plans to reduce the number of councils.

There's a sense of deja vue here, but the Welsh government will hold talks with opposition parties with a view to putting a map together by the summer.

And as was the case last year the best chance of a deal, in fact the only realistic chance of a deal, is with Plaid.