Monday, 19 November 2012

Executive Board - and no public filming

Battled through the monsoon this morning to attend the Executive Board meeting. I was the only member of the public present but still had to sign and go through the ritual of being escorted to and from the gallery, one in front, one behind. 

For reasons which I didn't quite catch, Kevin Madge (Leader) and Meryl sent their apologies. I'm not sure if they had eloped or were busy elsewhere. Odd really because it was quite an important meeting dealing with the budget and all that, but there you go. With the two cats away, Pam Palmer was allowed in the Chair.

Also quite important was the first item, which was the 'E-Government' report. Included in this as I have mentioned numerous times was the recommendation to pilot the filming of meetings, which, as I have also mentioned several times, will consist of recordings being made, then edited, then uploaded. Useless.

Anyway, although the recommendation was accepted (and will now go to full council), and despite having deliberated on the issue for eighteen months, there is still apparently more implications to consider, 'further reports needed' and 'many issues to resolve'. Dear god.

The crucial point was the extra bit, passed with cross-party support at the Policy and Resources meeting, to allow members of the public to film.

This as you will no doubt guess was thrown out.

There were mumblings about waiting to see how the pilot went etc but to be honest I think the decision was made long ago, and the waffle about waiting another year or so was ironed out at the pre-meeting briefing. It pleased Pam Palmer anyway.

Whether this could still go to full council, with the possibility that they could overturn the Executive Board decision, I'm not entirely sure.

The meeting moved swiftly on to Plaid's motion to introduce a Living Wage, which would help around 2800 council workers on low pay, the officer echoed the contents of the report in that it would upset the current council pay model, cost £1.75m to implement, equate to eighty eight job losses and might open them up to legal challenge.
A recommendation was made that employees could start at slightly higher grade of pay, still under the Living Wage though. But even this was deferred until further reports from the Welsh Government were completed. As I said in an earlier post, the Living in Luxury wage for senior executives remains intact.

Next up was the budget proposals which were to be rubber stamped ready for consultation. Although there was little sign of austerity in the Chamber, the future was apparently bleak. Reserves were being dipped into at an alarming rate and a proposed 1% pay rise would send the budget £1m adrift.

Efficiency savings had to be met, they were told, which prompted Pam Palmer to express her disappointment that the Plaid Leader, Peter Hughes Griffiths had left the Chamber as she wanted to remind him, in no uncertain terms, that it was no good criticising cuts without coming up with alternatives. As he was only an observer, even if he'd been there he wouldn't have been able to speak and would have had to be satisfied with a hard glare back.

They had to 'work together' said Pam, in other words, do as your told. That's what 'consultation' consists of in Carmarthenshire of course. One member said that scrutiny was a little difficult when, for instance, at the last Environment meeting, only four out of thirteen members turned up. Pam decided to cut things short at that point; perhaps she didn't want the single journalist and lone blogger to dwell on this attendance figure too much.

With a 4.14% rise in Council Tax suggested for next year, the Director of Resources was told to go back and massage his figures a bit more. It was decided that something under 3% might be acceptable to the voters.

The Capital budget was next and with funding shortfalls on the horizon, the longevity of some of the white elephants and vanity projects looked under threat, the former Technium site in Llanelli, now rebranded as the 'Beacon' might be one.

As it was Executive Board and not full council, there were no awkward questions from rebellious members about, for example, the twenty year £5m commitment to Henry Davidson Ltd for office space at the Eastgate development, nor whether the continuing financial package benefiting the Scarlets would be up for review, and god forbid anyone mention the evangelical bowling alley, or any other items of questionable expenditure. However, just in case anyone was beginning to have second thoughts and loosen the grip on the rubber stamp, the Chief Executive, who had been quiet until this point, reminded those present how wonderful the capital programme was.

Just before I left there was a brief discussion about the review of the Gambling Policy. This was nothing more than some tweaking in line with legislation. Pam Palmer though, in full temperance mode, decided that gambling, probably in line with filming meetings, was an 'abomination' as vulnerable poor folk were being bombarded with tempting TV adverts. Couldn't gambling be banned like cigarette smoking she wondered? Cllr Jane Tremlett, in her best BBC pronunciation suggested that years ago there was something called the Independent Television Network, and you could write to them and complain about the adverts. The Board decided to write to a Minister and complain about the ads. Fat lot of good that's going to do.
Anyway, this will probably go down well with the council's evangelical bowling partners (despite them being happy to receive £750,000 of lottery money) but probably less well with Meryl's crowd at the Ffos Las racecourse.

So what about the filming? The council are still without a policy or rule prohibiting such a 'subversive' activity by members of the public. To be honest, if anyone wants to record one of their meetings I think they should just go ahead. Despite the outward appearance of a cross between an exclusive Gentlemans' Club and a meeting of the WI, and the attendance by one member of the public, open meetings are just that, open and public and make decisions on spending your money. We, as residents of the County have every right to record the proceedings, I fail to understand the arguments against it....and I presume we would also have the support of the Minister, Carl Sargeant who has said it should be 'encouraged', and failing that, we can always turn to Eric Pickles.

Anyway, with the word 'abomination' ringing in my ears, I summoned the guards and was escorted out into the sunlight. Actually, it was still raining, but you know what I mean.

1 comment:

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks Jacqui for a very informative report. It makes even the Chinese People's Congress look liberal and democratic.