Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Terms of Reference - the governance review

Just in case you were wondering, which you probably weren't, I haven't gone away. Things seem to be unusually quiet in County Hall and of course there have been elections going on. 

Perhaps of more concern in Carmarthenshire, where there won't be another local election until 2017, are matters of governance. After all, no amount of gloss and rhetoric will cover rotten timber. At the recent council AGM Kevin Madge managed to keep references to the damning indictments from the Wales Audit Office to a minimum, and employed the usual 'drawing a line under it' and 'moving on' tactics, well used by politicians knee deep in manure.

He promised that 'all councillors' will be able to join in with the review, he might also like to invite the Carmarthenshire public to offer their suggestions too...

Next week's Executive Board meeting will travel, after the pre-meeting meeting, in convoy to the outback once again and grace the small market town of Llanybydder with it's presence. This is Kev's idea of democratic engagement where the local community can interact with the top brass, and officials can hear the grassroots grumblings of the hoi polloi. The 'community' will be booted out for an exempt discussion on Glyn Abbey Golf club and then the official convoy will travel back to the safety of County Hall, after lunch and expenses.

A far better idea would be to make the Executive responsive to local communities full stop; enable and encourage public questions, webcast their meetings, and make sure their decision making is lawful. With the last point in mind one item on the agenda concerns the first stage of the governance review heralded at the Extraordinary meeting on the 27th February, and, more to the point, an exercise insisted upon by the WAO.

The item seeks to determine the 'terms of reference' of the review and will have to be approved by full council.
The Welsh Local Government Association are assisting in establishing a 'team' which will comprise of a "politically balanced team of experts, led by a former Chief Executive from local government and potentially additional support from someone with an audit or regulatory background". Yes, an audit expert would be a good idea. As would the publication of their deliberations.

Up for review are;

"the effectiveness of current procedures or protocols such as notices of motion, urgent and exempt terms, scrutiny, declarations of interest and

"ensuring that reports fully set out legal, financial and equality implications of proposed policies and schemes

These two are a direct result of the unlawful payment scandals where both the pension payment and libel indemnity decisions were so deeply, and legally, flawed they necessitated a lengthy police investigation. As we know, 'current procedures' are far from 'effective' and, to give an example, it should never be the case that a senior officer sits in at any meeting where he stands to financially gain, personally, from a decision.

Also in the 'terms' (and this, as I have said, is not the only review underway. Three internal reviews are ongoing regarding the Press and Media Protocol, email tracking and planning enforcement), are 'transparency and accountability' to members who, so often, have been kept in the dark about decisions;

Transparency and accountability to members, including the role of scrutiny and the availability of information for members, including the recording, dissemination and communication of council decisions

Maybe it would be productive for the 'team' to take on an extra case study for their purposes? The car park deal between the Council and the Scarlets would give them plenty of scope....who knew there was a policy to pay off third party loans on behalf of private companies?

Anyway, tacked on to this review (the summarised report is here, no detailed report has been published..) is

"The role of Full Council, including consideration of the new Modular Constitution", "with a view to considering any changes needed to our own constitution"

Quite what the 'role of full council' part means I'm not sure. Hopefully executive proposals to turn the event into corporate power point presentations have now been abandoned.

Cneifiwr reflected on some of the more disturbing elements of the Wales wide 'new Modular Constitution' which is being considered across local authorities, including the rules for councillors asking questions; the questions must not be 'an expression of opinion' nor relate to 'questions of fact', which as Cneifiwr points out,  doesn't leave much and they might as well stay at home.

An early draft of this new constitution contained the clause;

["Filming and use of social media is permitted during meetings so long as there is no
disturbance to the conduct of the meeting.]

For some reason it was in heavy square brackets and it remains to be seen whether it survives into any final forms adopted by Welsh councils. It may have been abandoned already...

I suppose it's some consolation that the unlawful clause, unique to Carmarthenshire, and currently suspended from its constitution to instigate and fund defamation claims, does not appear in the draft constitution for Wales.

Lastly, for now, the usual regular update on the council's capital programme is also on the Executive Board agenda. It includes various current delays and/or extra costs. Within the list is a mysterious reference to the council's Eastgate development recently sold by Henry Davidson Developments to a large investment company. Apparently there is a delay due to "developer snaggings and requirements".

It doesn't state what is being delayed but apparently there's another £128k due to be spent there, and as for "developer snaggings"? Your guess is as good as mine.


caebrwyn said...

Thanks to a correspondent, we now know what 'snaggings' are;
'Snagging" is a term which is commonly used in construction when, at the end of a building contract, the developer's architect and the building contractor carry out a close inspection of the property to identify any defects, leaks, unfinished decoration etc.even down to missing screws, scuffs and marks.
From this inspection, a "snagging list" is produced which the contractor works through until all items on the list have been dealt with to the satisfaction of the architect.
The larger and more complex the building, the longer the "snagging list".
What is also estimated is the cost of undertaking repairs etc, and this sum is "retained" by the developer from the final sum due to the contractor until the work is finished. Subsequently the retention is released to the contractor.'

Sian Caiach said...

Perhaps the constitutional rule that every motion in council needs 7 seconders may be up for review? Its supposedly to ensure more than 10% of all the council members propose the motion so avoiding the irritation of hearing the views of any individuals or small groups. No other council in the UK seems to need this protective rule.
Plaid, as the largest group on CCC, strongly supported this change but then found that as an opposition group they still got most of their motions blocked from full council discussion by the officers deciding that they were not appropriate for that forum.
Perhaps the Chair of Carmarthenshire Council could actually take control of the agenda of meetings as other chairs do? If the position of chair is just a "reward" for senior Councillors and nominated on the basis of ability to be charming wearing a heavy chain rather than having the ability and authority to instruct officers and organise meetings, then we get what we deserve. There are some traditions which are not worth preserving.

Redhead said...

Review of Overview and Scrutiny in Wales