Back to County Hall again this morning for the last full council meeting before the election on May 3rd. After having given names and addresses etc and promised not to film on pain of death, three members of the public (including me) were escorted by two staff to the Public Gallery. It was rather subdued as between 10 and 15 councillors were absent (I lost count), I think several had gone to the Senedd to deliver a petition to try and preserve emergency A & E services at Prince Phillip Hospital, Llanelli (I wish them luck - you may remember the last peacful demonstration).
The Chair, Ivor Jackson reminded everyone of his forthcoming charity Curry Night in Llanelli, (I am not sure if this was a demotion from the equally forthcoming and grander Mayor's Ball which was under threat due to lack of interest) still, perhaps 'anyone for a curry?' may prove more successful for Ivor.
Cllr Caiach then attempted to raise the matter of the Executive Board minutes from the 23rd January which had been whizzed through with no questions allowed, at the last meeting. She felt that many members wished to ask some questions about this, and I would like to add, there have been several letters to the local papers expressing concerns - but, it was not to be, as if he'd been poked with a sharp stick from someone sitting close by, Cllr Jackson immediately (and loudly) demanded no more be said as it had been dealt with at the last meeting, Cllr Caiach tried to appeal to his discretionary right as Chair and his better nature but neither quality was apparent today.
The next three items were passed in the blink of an eye; setting the Council tax, a 12 month extension to the Severance scheme and the 'Localism Bill'. The latter was a reference to the pay policy statement to be issued by the end of March, dealing mainly with Chief Officer pay, which has been frozen at it's satisfactorily large figure for a couple of years, although I notice that expenses have increased. Quite how the full council will approve this statement as it will not meet again until May is a mystery.
Next up was the 'Cumulative Impact Policy' for Station Road, Llanelli. This was in response to a high level of alcohol related anti-social behaviour in the area. In a nutshell, an extra process to be gone through before further licenses are issued in the area. Nobody disagreed with the importance of trying to limit the sale of alcohol to prevent bad behaviour (in the street, not the Chamber) and many lengthy speeches were made about the evils of the demon drink with one or two interests declared from the various licensees in the Chamber, including the Executive Board Member for planning, Cllr Scourfield who remembered the days when alcohol could only be bought in the pub or the chemist - I'm not sure what type of alcohol he used to but at the chemist mind you. Everyone, quite rightly agreed that alcoholic excess was a problem, Cllr Madge, never missing the opportunity to have his say, reminisced about his past drinking habits at the 'Top Rank' and how times had changed. One issue of concern was the selling of cheap booze by the numerous large supermarkets which now sprawl across Carmarthenshire, thanks to the council. Anyway they decided to write to the Welsh Government to express their concerns. That'll have an effect then.
The next item, the licensing of venues providing sexual entertainment caused the smirks and giggles usually reserved for the school assembly, Clr Caiach asked how many such venues were in Carmarthenshire - none apparently. Perhaps this untapped market could be an opportunity for an enterprising ex-councillor or two after the May election?
The 'Strategic Equality Plan - Evidence Report and Engagement Reports' was next, a lengthy document (can be seen an the agenda) Cllr Caiach made the point that children from gypsy families continued to suffer discrimination in schools from their fellow classmates and while the curriculum dealt briefly with the history and issues relating to other ethnic minorities, the lack of education about the history of the Romany and gypsy tradition led to children inheriting the prejudices of their parents. This was lost on the 'Children's Champion' Cllr Gwynne Wooldridge who missed the wider point and defended the council and insisted that gypsy children had been fully integrated in a 'special unit' - well integrated then. Cllr Caiach also mentioned the fact that, faced with the usual row of 'suits' on the council podium, there were very few women in senior positions in the council. Meryl rose to the challenge to insist that women had every opportunity to climb the council career ladder - yes it looks like it!
The last item due for rubber stamping was the Supplementary Planning Guidance for the Carmarthen West Development Brief. (search for previous posts). Cllr Arthur Davies questioned whether sufficient consultation had been carried out as nearly everyone he had spoken to was against this enormous proposal which would almost double the size of Carmarthen he also requested a recorded vote, other raised concerns over flooding issues, lack of infrastructure, traffic problems etc. The Head of Planning was ready though and deflected all this with a complicated speech about the UDP, the LDP and SPG's all which seemed to overlap and extend into the distant future and any blame for inaccurate population projections was laid squarely with the Welsh Government. The Chief Executive, stated that SPG's such as this actually protected areas of Carmarthenshire from unscrupulous developers as 'we' were in control. Cllr Anthony Jones echoed the Chief's remarks and added that Carmarthenshire was beautiful and we had to protect it - funny then that he didn't make so much as a murmur when an opencast mine (92,000 tons) was approved in December in his ward despite enormous opposition. He didn't even request a site visit. There you go. Cllr Davies's request for a recorded vote was quietly ignored and it was passed with a few abstentions.
That was about it really. As this was the last meeting before the election the Chair used his discretion (unlike earlier) to add a few comments thanking everyone for their support especially the Chief Executive who had been invaluable in...er...repeatedly prompting him throughout the year. He was also pleased that he, and they, had survived the year unscathed, he's clearly forgotten about the multiple appearances in Private Eye.
Oh, before I forget, I'm pleased to announce that, unlike the previous meeting, Cllr Steve Lloyd-Janes remained awake for the entire duration. To save his embarrassment, I had not named Mr Lloyd-Janes in my previous post but as he has gone to some lengths to name me twice in a letter to the local paper today, the gloves are off.
and, of course, Y Cneifiwr has given an excellent account of today's proceedings; Last Chance To See - March Meeting Part 1