In the last of our series of interviews with the group leaders hoping to run Cardiff council, Peter Law spoke to the Liberal Democrats’ Rodney Bermanabout his record in power and whether he can win a third term on May 3.
Aster running Cardiff council for the past eight years, Rodney Berman is just as keen to talk-up his record in power as he is to attack his Labour rivals.
Throughout this election campaign, his Liberal Democrats have been quick to remind voters of the situation the group says it inherited from Labour in 2004.
Speaking at his Roath home, Councillor Berman – who has run the council in partnership with Plaid Cymru since 2008 – lists recycling, social services, dirty streets and school funding as some of the issues the Lib Dems have “turned around”.
He also harks back to the row over £2.7m in unlawful allowances paid to Cardiff’s councillors when Labour was in power at the turn of the century.
“That was all down to the way the council was being run by Russell Goodway,” he says.
Coun Berman claims the veteran Ely councillor – who was leader of the council for 12 years – is in fact still controlling Cardiff Labour behind the scenes. And he goes on to deliver a damning verdict on current Labour group leader, Heather Joyce.
“It’s unquestionable that it’s Russell Goodway who is in the driving seat,” he said.
“It’s very obvious that he is controlling what they are doing.
“I hear anecdotally all the time that he is the one writing all the questions they put to council and it’s Russell who is tabling motions.
“I don’t want to denigrate Heather personally, but I think it’s pretty clear that she is out of her depth here.
“Whether she sees herself in that role or not, I think everybody can see she is very much holding a caretaker position.
“I’m hearing on the rumour mill, particularly from Labour sources, that Russell Goodway is calculating that he is going to have the support to take the leadership back if Labour get into a position of power.
“I think people need to know that if they vote Labour there is a very high chance they will end up with Russell Goodway again.”
For his part, Coun Goodway has repeatedly said in recent weeks that he has no ambition to once again be council leader. Other Labour councillors have also said that it would be a political disaster if anyone challenged Coun Joyce’s leadership should they gain control on May 3.
Coun Berman has pitched the election as a two-horse race between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, writing off the chances of Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives.
“We are clearly the largest party at the moment so it’s obvious that we are one of the contenders,” he said.
“But you have to look at the Assembly elections where Labour won all four constituencies (in Cardiff) and historically it has been Labour that has been more dominant across the city than any other party, that is a very clear, obvious analysis to anybody.”
This election is the first time local Liberal Democrats have had to defend their party being in government in Westminster. To counter this, Coun Berman has stressed that Cardiff residents should judge Lib Dems on their record of running the council, plus, he says: “I don’t think people forget straight away that it was Labour who got us into this mess.”
The 43-year-old highlights recycling as among his administration’s biggest achievement – latest figures show 54% of household waste is now being recycled – as well as refurbishment of libraries and increased spending on schools.
One of the biggest crises facing his administration over the past year has been children’s services after it was revealed some staff felt so overworked a vulnerable child could suffer.
“The problems with Intake and Assessment were not so much that our service deteriorated but because we weren’t keeping pace with the increasing demand,” he said.
“You go to any council and they will tell you they have trouble recruiting social workers; the problems are not unique to Cardiff. We moved quickly to put the extra social workers in place.”
Looking beyond polling day, he believes attracting new jobs to Cardiff is the biggest challenge facing the city.
“We have very ambitious plans for a Central Business District, but I’m not going to pretend it’s going to be easy to attract inward investment,” he said.
“The question is how in these circumstances do you attract the investment to attract the new jobs we need. We know we have a problem with unemployment in the city, particularly among young people.
“We have got to make sure we can get those people attaining skills and make sure we can get the jobs for them to take up – any administration has got to make that a huge priority.”
Two years ago Coun Berman made an unsuccessful tilt at running as an Assembly Member when his council colleague Nigel Howells was selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Cardiff Central.
Asked about his future political ambitions, Coun Berman said: “I don’t think you can plot out a career in politics. My focus entirely at the moment is on taking the Liberal Democrats into a third term of leading Cardiff council.
“We have not run out of ideas whatsoever. We’ve still got an ambition to carry this city forward. We’ve started our Central Business District project, I want to see that starting to come into reality, and I want to see our plans for a new bus station come to fruition.
“The journey for Cardiff is very much uppermost in my mind and that’s all I’m thinking about at this moment in time.”