Thursday, 13 September 2012

Full council meeting - September

I have little to add to Cneifiwr's thorough report on yesterdays meeting of full council, if you haven't already read it, please do. I must make a few points of my own though. I was disappointed to note that all entry restrictions are still firmly in place, I gave my name and address and signed the filming undertaking, even adding "under protest"; all a bit pointless really considering Colin Davies, Head of the 'democracy' department rips them up afterwards, apparently. I also note that  individual members of the public are still, bizarrely, escorted in and out by two members of staff, one in front and one behind.
I wonder whether the new Chair, Cllr Sian Thomas thinks that this is an appropriate method of welcoming the public?

Chair of Carmarthenshire Council
To be honest, it doesn't look like either she, nor any other of our elected members have ever had any say in these matters, even if any of them wanted to. Cllr Caiach had asked the Chair whether she could make an audio recording of the meeting, and all future meetings, purely for her own use and her own records. The Chair informed Cllr Caiach that as the Task and Finish group looking into webcasting was "on the brink" of a recommendation (after 15 months) then the "status quo" would remain and so the answer was no and she confirmed that this was the wish of the Chief Executive and the Head of Law, who both mumbled in agreement. That was that.

On safer ground, the Chair went on to tell the class that she had enjoyed almost all her numerous civic duties over the summer; the recipients of her visits can only guess whether they were the few she hadn't enjoyed. Resplendent, on the table in front of the official podium and was a small framed certificate for all to inspect, I thought it might have been from Private Eye, but the Chair explained to the class that it was from Prince Charles (has a large holiday home near Llandovery for occasional weekend breaks to shoot the local wildlife) which was rather appropriate given the assorted 'honour' holders sat behind it. Apparently it was for co-operation with the Prince's Trust, or it may have just been for co-operation with the Prince....I'm not sure..the translating equipment crackled at that point. 

The Ombudsman's report was, er, discussed with Housing Chief, Mr Staines and Executive Member Cllr Devichand giving the predictable reassurance that everything was now fine, etc etc Several councillors popped up to paint a somewhat different story from their various constituencies, so, to avoid the carefully prepared spin going pear-shaped, the Chief Executive stepped in to insist, (he had reminded them about this several times, he said) that individual ward concerns should not be discussed in meetings of full council. 
I can partly understand the reasoning behind this as meetings can become a very drawn out affair if all 74 members brought up local concerns on every particular topic (72 if you exclude Tom and Ivor who would never dream of doing such a silly thing). But in this instance the councillors were using their local knowledge to democratically challenge a council report.
A similar thing happened later in the meeting when the Social Care annual report was summarized by department Chief, Bruce McLernon, and councillors who attempted to provide a reality check from the experiences of their constituents were ordered to sit down.  A blanket ban such as this is worrying as it may prevent Members from bringing a local issue, such as the closure of a village school, to full council for discussion, even when it has a bearing on county matter or council policy. Still, democracy will always come second place when there's a buffet calling.

I was also puzzled to hear the Chief Executive refer several times to the fact that the average time taken from application to completion of work through Disabled Facilites grants was 200 days in Carmarthenshire, lower than some neighbouring counties, apparently. Yet in the 2012/2013 Improvement Plan it says; 
"We will reduce the average number of calender days taken to deliver a Disabled Facilities Grant from 312 days to 310 days".

As I said, Cneifiwr has filled in the details, including the surprising allegations in the Chamber about a particular evangelical drug rehabilitation centre in Llanelli, where, according to rumour the director of this charity takes home a rather generous £57k a year and has various family members employed 'on paper' alone. According to several councillors, these rumours were rife in the town. Given that these serious allegations were wafting loudly around the Chamber the councillors concerned were hastily reminded that scrutiny of such financial matters were not the councils job, unless there was council funding involved. You would think though, that scrutiny of the Towy Community Church Excel project would be entirely appropriate given that £1.4m Carmarthenshire cash has gone their way, but, despite concerns raised here there and everywhere, it would seem not.

The meeting would not be complete without being interspersed with speeches from Kev, the Leader, who clearly feels he has to 'thank the officers blah blah', at regular 10 minute intervals. Perhaps I'm wrong but there's an almost audible sigh each time he gets to his feet. Perhaps his daftest statement yesterday was during almost customary 'it's ok to give the Scarlets more money' discussion concerning an application for a Marston's pub/hotel on part of the car park. It would seem, from the discussion that it had already been passed but I don't believe it has. Kev decided on the "bringing quality employment" to Llanelli approach. It's nice to know that washing dishes or making beds in a pub is classed as 'quality employment' for Llanelli residents by the Leader of the council.

One thing missing from the meeting was a Notice on Motion from the Plaid group to support Unison's campaign for a living wage for the lowest paid council staff. For reasons unknown, and despite having a Plaid Chair it was not allowed. I would have thought a Labour led council would have welcomed an opportunity to publicly support the whole idea, at least in principle. Maybe it was too 'politically contentious' for our council, clearly though it wasn't too political for the news section of the council's website, where, in so many words, Kev confirms Plaid's fears that decisions will be made behind closed doors. Perhaps he will take part in 'briefings' in the back of the chauffeur driven Merc. Solidarity.

I must add, while I'm here, that I was under the impression (maybe wrongly) that Agendas for Executive Board/Council meeting should be available to the public online at least three working days prior to a meeting. This is haphazard in Carmarthenshire to say the least, and I note that the Agenda for next Monday's Exec Board meeting has yet to materialise.

Lastly, for now, I must thank my local paper, the Ammanford based South Wales Guardian which occasionally reports where others fear to tread, (despite the threats,) for giving me a plug for the Wales Blog Awards;

".....Jacqui, aged 49, began her blog after the county council took the incredible decision to rewrite its own constitution and introduce a clause allowing the authority to fund the legal costs of its own officers who wished to sue taxpayers – the only council in the UK to do so......."


Cneifiwr said...

A shameless bit of self-promotion at the end there, Caebrwyn. But very brave of the South Wales Guardian. I'm sure their negative attitude will have been noted in County Hall.

caebrwyn said...

@Cneifiwr :)

Cneifiwr said...

Have just spotted this comment on South Wales Guardian website:

"Jacqui's blog is certainly a must-read for anyone interested in local politics.

Perhaps it says something about our county council that two out of the three blogs shortlisted for Best Political Blog in Wales are dedicated to the goings-on at County Hall.

In the interests of balance and shameless self-promotion, readers considering how to vote might also like to look at:"

caebrwyn said...

and you're calling me shameless!

Anna Mosity said...

Good luck both in the awards!

Back to this blog article, and the “Agendas for Executive Board/Council meeting should be available to the public online at least three working days prior to a meeting” reference. CCC also has a rule that you cannot speak at a planning meeting unless you state your intention 7 days before, which would make it a Thursday morning in most cases. However, usually they don’t publish the Agenda and Planning Reports until the Friday morning at the earliest. Clever hey?

Of course you could state your intention to speak as soon as an application goes in but often it is only the (ridiculous) contents of the planning officer’s report that makes residents decide that they need/want to speak.

Democracy in action.

Anonymous said...

Revisiting the filming debacle; there are many amazingly small covert cctv items, from button holes to hair grips. I'm surprised that the autocrats aren't now searching everyone before they are allowed into the meetings. Just a thought!

Mrs Angry said...

erm ... oh dear: the goings on at CCC almost put the antics here in Broken Barnet in the shade ...almost.

Thank goodness that both councils are blessed with the attentions of attentive lady bloggers, or 'old hags' as our favourite councillor Brian Coleman refers to us. Clearly in Wales, much more respect is shown, as you know from personal experience.