Posted: Thu 17th Nov 2022

Residents complaining about Conwy councillors do so from ‘position of ignorance’, says politician

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Nov 17th, 2022

Residents complaining about Conwy councillors often do so from a position of ignorance, a politician has claimed. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

A second councillor also said Conwy Council needed to improve its communication, so residents knew more about their levels of dedication and commitment. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

The local authority’s democratic services committee debated an increase in members’ salaries, proposed by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales as part of a consultation process. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

The debate saw several councillors admit they were uncomfortable receiving a salary increase during a cost-of-living crisis, but others said a fair wage encouraged diversity within the council. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

Councillors accepted the “evidence-based” salary increase proposed by the panel but agreed to write back, suggesting the panel should consider reducing the number of senior salaries. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

But during the discussions, a number of politicians addressed the public perception of councillors, especially on social media. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

Cllr Cathy Augustine (Lab) said knocking on residents’ doors during the election campaign had opened her eyes to how the public perceives the authority. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

As a newly elected councillor, she said she had been shielded from criticism previously but claimed residents were criticising the council from a position of ignorance. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

Cllr Augustine specifically referred to Coed Pella, the council’s £58m purpose-built flagship building, which has remained largely empty since the pandemic. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

She said: “It was still a really skewed perception, and we have to work really hard whatever we do about this to make sure residents understand our reasoning behind it (making decisions). ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

“If anyone does dip their toe in some of the Facebook groups, people do not understand, about Coed Pella, why we have Bodlondeb. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

“We are criticised from a point of ignorance in the sense that constituents and residents not having the full information. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

“So in general, we need to do better in comms and in particular on this issue.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

Cllr David Carr (Ind) appeared angered by Cllr Augustine’s comments. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

He said: “I don’t think we should be condescending to members of the public because they are the people who are paying their council tax. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

“They pay for the services that run this council, and what people say on Facebook is a matter for them, but really I think we should listen.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

Cllr Carr also said an independent panel setting councillors’ salaries didn’t “wash” with the public. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

Cllr Nigel Smith (Ind) referenced the “good old days” when businesses would allow councillors to have time off work to carry out their duties. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

However, he claimed this now happened less often, due to reductions in the number of staff companies employ. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

He said this affected diversity – as well as how councillors were perceived. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

Cllr Smith also claimed negative comments about councillors on social media were driven by a small number of people. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

He said: “I think it is part of the perception that the electorate has about councillors, sadly driven on social media usually by the usual ten or eleven people. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

“Locally when I have dipped my toe in social media and had a quick look, it always seems to be the same names who have no comprehension of the dedication and commitment that all of us give as councillors to our residents, and it is a sad thing for me because whenever the muck hits the fan, we are usually the first ones that they call asking for help. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

“It is a difficult one, but as Cllr Cathy said, we need to do more with our comms to get over the good work that we all do on behalf of our residents.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

By Richard Evans – Local Democracy Reporter ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌​​​

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