A day in the hectic life of a council leader

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

IT’S 8.30am on an ordinary July day in Wrexham.

It might be the height of summer but this is Britain. The sky is a dull grey and there’s more than a hint of drizzle in the air.

A warmer image of the town hangs in a corner office in the Guildhall in the form of an attractive watercolour showing St Giles’ Church dominating the Wrexham skyline at sunset.

It is the office of council leader Aled Roberts. Apart from a desk and the painting, the room is occupied by a meeting table which seats six, a busy pinboard on the opposite wall, and plenty of shelves and filing cabinets.

On top of one of these cabinets is a Star Trek transporter toy. “It was bought for me by the secretaries in case I wanted to be beamed elsewhere,” he jokes.

The office does boast three large windows overlooking Llwyn Isaf, but it’s not the best of days and in any case there’s no time to be staring at the view.

It’s a Tuesday and as well as having a reporter shadow him for the day, Cllr Roberts has a pretty hectic schedule.

Today’s diary is packed with meetings and appointments, including an executive board meeting later on.

While his predecessors would probably have spent the first few minutes of the working day rifling through piles of letters, for Cllr Roberts it is a case of checking and responding to emails.

Some 98 per cent of correspondence from residents now comes to him via email he reveals.

He doesn’t always have time to check them first thing he tells me, yesterday’s messages were read when he got home at about 9pm.

Just before 9am Cllr Roberts receives a phone call advising him that there is a lady in reception who wants to see him ahead of the afternoon’s executive board meeting.

While he still has a few minutes to spare he agrees and heads downstairs to hear her concerns.

As it turns out it is the first time that the issue has come to his attention and he assures the woman that it is not something that is due to be discussed that day.

He does, however, reassure her that it is something that he will look into, before returning to his office for the first meeting of the day with service development manager in housing and public protection Jonathan Edwards.

The discussion centred around disabled facility grants, following a WGLA conference that Mr Edwards had earlier attended, and how the council can deal with cases most efficiently.

With this and subsequent meetings I will not go into great detail, firstly because I was only allowed to shadow Cllr Roberts on the condition that I did not leak any sensitive material and secondly because, to an outsider, much of what was talked about is as mind boggling as a council officer’s job title.

What I will say is that in this economic climate it is clear that there is a real emphasis on cutting down bureaucracy and increasing efficiency in the way council departments deal with things like the disabled grants.

The next meeting of the day comes immediately after the first.

Cllr Roberts has two secretaries who work alternate weeks, both of whom he tells me have become very good at making sure he is on time for things.

So five minutes after he’d had his five minute call we were off to see council chief executive Isobel Garner whose office is just down the hall and boasts an impressive view of Queen’s Square.

With the leaders of both elements of the council present, both the political and corporate aspects of local government were touched upon.

The discussions ranged from the outcomes of previous meetings and planning for future ones to Welsh Assembly initiatives and whether or not they have or would benefit Wrexham.

Another meeting follows – this time with deputy leader Cllr Bob Dutton and economic development manager Rebecca Lowry on the subject of community cohesion – and then it was time for lunch. Well it was for me at least, the council leader had another meeting to attend before heading down to the executive board.

The big meeting of the day would cover topics ranging from carbon emissions to conservation areas, housing, and improving the council itself.

It goes on for a long time and the subjects that were expected to be contentious certainly do prove to be.

There are reports to be read, explanations to hear and heated debate. But these are not decisions to be taken lightly.

It may be just another ordinary day in the Guildhall but in the space of a few hours Cllr Roberts and his colleagues, be they elected members or council officers, have addressed major issues that will undoubtedly affect each and every one of us.

See full story in the Leader

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