Thursday, 12 June 2014

The June Council meeting

Despite the council press office failing to mention or promote it at all for this month, there was a webcast of today's full council meeting which will be archived later.The livestream got off to a shaky start but fortunately we didn't miss the prayers nor the list of fifteen apologies, at least four or five of whom were Thomases, perhaps there was a clan meeting somewhere.

As the new Chair, shooting expert Daff Davies struggled to get to grips with the script we are lucky that the Chief Executive was now back on hand to offer his expert advice on the control of meetings, something former Chair Cllr Sian Thomas (Plaid) commented on a while back.

Anyway, the first item up was the 'governance review'. This, and I'm sure you don't need reminding, was required after the publication of the WAO reports. The council were being asked to approve the range of topics to be included in the review. The range, it turned out, had been discussed between party leaders and the WLGA a couple of weeks ago. The report is here and I have mentioned it here.

Plaid Cllr Dai Jenkins kicked off the debate emphasising the enormous importance of the review in the restoration of public faith in the honesty and integrity of the council. He felt though that the remit failed to recognise that it was the Executive Board rather than full council which was to blame, given that it was their dire behaviour which had led to the current state of affairs.

He was disappointed that the remit was to review the 'effectiveness' of procedures etc, shouldn't that be 'ineffectiveness'? He proposed that the wording be changed to 'effectiveness, or otherwise'.

He was also concerned at the length of time it has taken for this Welsh Local government Association independent panel to be established, pointing out that several senior officials have now retired, or soon will be, and will therefore evade the scrutiny of the review.

Then it was the leader's turn. It was not true, said Kev, that the Exec Board was undemocratic, they'd made a few 'mistakes' but of course he welcomed the review. The denial continued for a while then as usual he resorted to his vast collection of cliches and insisted they needed to 'take this council forward' and 'move on'.

Cllr Caiach was up next and reminded Kev that the Constitution had been regularly tweaked in recent years to remove democratic accountability, including introducing a world record number of seconders required to support a motion and also the 'budget saving' reduction of Scrutiny meetings which left Councillors more 'in the dark' than ever before.

Cllr Caiach also added that had the full council been fully informed of the contents of the legal opinion used to grant the libel indemnity to the chief executive, (or had been fully and properly informed about any of it in fact), she was certain they would not have approved.

She said that given the public reaction, few of the members could possibly have justified the two payments to the chief executive to their constituents and would therefore not have approved it in the first place.

Plaid Cllr Darren Price then proposed that the remit should have a definite aim and that 'Carmarthenshire Council must be THE most open and THE most transparent Council in Wales and should be at the forefront of member and citizen involvement'.
Let's all hope that Cllr Price's aspirations are achieved....there's such a long way to go.

Cllr Pam Palmer then felt the need to defend herself over the unlawful libel indemnity and tried to alter history by claiming that full council were consulted. I don't think even the most imaginative persons present could remember that particular scenario. It was a dream Pam.

An attempt by Cllr Caiach to raise an additional point (inaudible) was hurriedly silenced by loud whispers from the chief executive to the Chair that 'she's already spoken once'. (The 'speaking once' rule is usually only invoked for Cllr Caiach who must always be stopped from saying something truthful and controversial...we can't have that).

Eventually the amendments (Cllr Jenkins' addition of 'or otherwise' and Cllr Price's aim to be the most open council in Wales) were voted on and carried. Which was something. The outcome of this 'urgent' review will appear sometime in the Autumn..

At some point budding Labour candidate for next year's Westminster election Cllr Calum Higgins felt the need to tweet (a completely unknown, and I hear prohibited activity for Carmarthenshire councillors in meetings) that he'd voted in favour of the two Plaid amendments....

Things moved swiftly on to another issue which lacked any sort of scrutiny, the Local Service Board (LSB). Concerns had been raised at a scrutiny meeting that the minutes for this Board, which comprises of senior management from the council, health board, police etc, hadn't been published for four years. Cllr Lenny (Plaid) said it was going 'under the radar'.

He also questioned the point and purpose of the organisation as decisions were being made, such as the relocation of the fire control centre from Carmarthen to Bridgend without even going to the LSB.

Similarly, he'd also heard that the Bobby Van scheme, run by the police was being stopped next month. This service provided free home security advice and practical assistance to older people, to prevent crime and deal with the aftermath of a burglary, by, for instance, changing locks.
It would, I have to add, be a shame to see it end.
Again, apparently neither the LSB, nor anyone else, was consulted.

Calls were made for the Police Commissioner, (who had recently offended County Hall officialdom by withdrawing the police funding of the council rag, the Carmarthenshire News) and the chief constable, to be brought before them to explain themselves.

One Executive Board member, veteran Cllr Jim Jones (Ind) said he'd written to the Police Commissioner about this but the only reply he'd had so far had been from a 'girl'. A 'girl'? how awful, poor man.

Cllr Jim Jones

As for the LSB itself, the chief executive Mr James, who is a member, explained that it didn't bother itself with making such 'low level' decisions, in fact it didn't make decisions at all, it was a 'high level strategic' organisation which only dealt with 'high level' strategy (you get the picture..), such insignificant minutiae as Bobby Vans would never be discussed.

Former Chair, Terry Davies (Lab) was up next concerned that the next set of minutes they were receiving hadn't been signed off by the relevant committee, as it wasn't meeting again until after full council.

This was irrelevant of course, what mattered was the report was there, at full council. The chief executive then took the opportunity to announce that this was why he didn't think minutes of any meetings, including scrutiny, should go to full council, there was 'no need', he said.
He added that when he'd suggested this splendid idea, he'd been 'shot down by the press'.

Mr James' proposal, you may remember, was for full council meetings to become largely 'good news' powerpoint presentations from the council and their various 'partners'. No debate about anything. Personally I prefer a bit of debate, however limited, than a two hour sermon from the Towy Community Church, for example.

The last point was the report on the effects and impact of Welfare Reform on Carmarthenshire residents and there was no disagreement that a close eye needed to be kept on the situation.

Kev mentioned that the poor were becoming squeezed out whilst those at the top were getting richer, a pattern which Kev and his executive colleagues have, on occasion, done their bit to promote....

The meeting drew to a close and the poverty stricken mortals of Carmarthenshire were swiftly forgotten as the Chair invited everyone to his Civic Service shindig on Sunday for 'fine weather, good hymns and good food'.....good god.

Chair of Council

13th June; Archived webcast available here


Anonymous said...

MRS T you missed the point in that several independents other than the unofficial independents of Caiach & Jenkins voted with both Plaid amendments so Plaid slight change of wording would be carried forward. This apparently was much to the annoyance of Pam !!!

Anonymous said...

Ah the pigs at the trough of plenty. I had an interesting conversation with two very well educated people who had been to one of these meetings because they wanted to see how democracy worked in Wales. They happened to be from the U.S.A. I met them some time after they had attended a meeting and they still bore the mental scars. There was a glazed look in their eyes. I asked how it had been. They said they had never imagined that such people existed and were shocked at how uneducated and FAT most of the people were. But was it democratic I asked. At this point they began to shake quite visibly. They were last seen heading for Heathrow.

Redhead said...

Our campIgn group got secret agendas and minutes of meetings relating to planning control by involving the Information Commissioner, though this was in England.

Anonymous said...

Mr Madge appeared to be concerned about the use of food banks.
A living wage for council employees would surely reduce the need for some use of these food banks ?

caebrwyn said...

Thank you for your comments.

Anon 01:02
Thank you, yes, and at least one Labour cllr. I can't understand why anyone would vote against; a)wording which acknowledges failings (hence the review) and b)a reasonable and achievable aim to work for full transparency.

Should have been unanimous really! You never know they may even publish spending details over £500 one day.

Re the police investigation? Yes, I'm currently considering requesting an internal review, a necessary step before going to the ICO.

Anon 10:11
Yes, Mr Madge forgets about that. It may become a more pressing issue for our Labour politicians as we lead up to the general election...

Anonymous said...

It didn't take very long for business as usual to return. Seems Mr James has not learned very much during his hiatus, its a pity, he's obviously a very good leader, but as so often happens, entrenched leaders become all powerful, few will challenge them on the decisions that really, really should never have been taken.

I wonder about the cadre of advisors that he must rely on, i think we're i him, I would want to freshen up the team. Unless of course, that they be the politicians that he is supposed to serve. How inconvenient, he's stuck with them! So the groupthink will continue, nothing will change, independents rule...Go Team!

What we need is an accountable leader, a mayor of Carmarthenshire, someone who the electorate can vote for every four years and who would have to front up to decisions taken by the council in Town Hall style meetings with the public. Someone that could be impeached if needed, should old habits prove too hard to break.

That or for the people of Carmarthenshire to wake up and realise that the majority of labour and independent councillors are not behaving in the interests of the majority of citizens and that plaid are too ineffective as to be anything other than a thorn in the side.

I can't see either happening while current personalities persist in power.

It makes me want to uproot my family and move to Ferryside or Trimsaran and stand for some daft party like UKIP or the Greens, or even the really truly independent party although i suspect that nobody would believe there is such a thing. I'd spend my inheritance on flyers and a campaign team and door knock until my knuckles bled...

...and then...

...wake up!!

Sian Caiach said...

I was trying to ask for a point of information as to whether the amendment from Darren Price was also going to be taken after the first one.
In the end Darren put his amendment in and it was passed so no problem

caebrwyn said...

Thank you for the clarification Sian.