Monday, 13 October 2014

Executive Board - On the Road

As a Community Councillor I went along today to one of Kev's 'On the road' Executive Board meetings where the convoy of officers and executive board members meet and yes, 'engage' with the 'grassroots' of democracy.

It was held in Llandovery and what with plenty of expenses to be claimed and several hours of officer time taken up it was quite an expensive exercise.

County Hall outing

Executive board meeting themselves are very dull affairs with the Members nodding through what they're told to and the whole thing predetermined at the unminuted pre-meeting gathering before the public event starts.

Having criticised these get-togethers before, I can now speak from direct experience (on a personal level obviously, I'm not speaking for my community council) and say that it was indeed a waste of time and little more than a PR exercise.The presence of the council press manager was a bit of a giveaway.

The exec board meeting was first with a sprinkling of local town and community councillors sat around the assembled County Hall crew. You can't ask questions or speak during the meeting. To their credit opposition Cllrs Dai Jenkins and Emlyn Dole trekked out to Llandovery as observers. County Cllrs Tom Theophilus and Ivor Jackson were also present as the local members, and sat there like a couple of snoozing bookends.

Linda Rees Jones loitered on the periphery in case the chief executive suddenly required some emergency legal ironing.

Opening the meeting, Mr James announced that it was Meryl's 70th birthday that very same day, but thankfully we were spared having to sing a chorus of Happy Birthday as dear Meryl wasn't there.

First up was a presentation from the privately run Llandovery College which arose from the ashes of near bankruptcy a couple of years ago. Kevin Madge declared how he would never like to see the school close, indeed not, but shame he was so keen for state run Pantycelyn secondary school to close last year. Good old socialist principles eh Kev?

I'm not certain what the presentation was in aid of but there was quite a lot of talk of 'growth' and later in the meeting the chief executive hinted at talks, and 'joint aspirations' with the college principal over the future of the site of the now defunct Pantycelyn School.

Next up was a strange discussion over a £14k grant, from the Mynydd y Betws wind farm fund for a community farm to add to the community garden at Ysgol Y Bedol in Garnant.

It would provide sanctuary for chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits etc for the children and wider community, eggs could be sold and lots could be learned. Kevin Madge and Colin Evans declared interests and left the meeting, I think it was because they were governors, or perhaps know, held back a few years.

This grant had already been heard at an Exec Board Member meeting (Meryl) where, seemingly unnecessary concerns had been raised over the proposed care of animals. Given that this project has actually got to this stage I'm sure the organisers had thought this through, and the report backs this up.

Anyway, unlike Meryl's Millions which are rubber stamped by her good self behind closed doors, this little primary school community farm project, perhaps for the benefit of critics of Carmarthenshire's grant management, was elevated to the executive board and was clearly going to be subjected to a level of scrutiny never before seen.

Luckily for the future of the natural world, Pam was on hand to fret that the poor creatures needed water. Again, I'm absolutely certain that the organisers were perfectly aware that animals needed water. Anyway, on it went, and on...  I couldn't hear what happened at the end, I just hope they got their grant.

The usual revenue and capital monitoring reports came up which presented an opportunity for the chief executive to give a little speech about the wondrous capital projects blossoming all over the county, the press manager was hastily scribbling away.

Mr James, soon to be 'down the road' rather than on it, never misses an opportunity for PR waffle and I seem to remember he even managed to mention the county's 2% increase in recycling figures when under cross-examination in the witness box at the libel trial.

The meeting went on to budget news and the £45m the council would have to cut over the next three years. "Things were beyond our control"  said our ever-assertive Leader Cllr Madge. Labour Cllr Colin Evans who has the highways and byways portfolio, a budget which, unlike social care and education, is not protected, couldn't understand the mentality of the Welsh Government; or, 'his colleagues in Cardiff', as they are otherwise known.

With reference to the reduction in Welsh Government grants Kevin Madge blamed the auditors for their fees for checking the paperwork...with Pam nodding frantically in agreement. They've clearly got a thing about auditors at Carmarthenshire Council....

Full public consultation on the carefully yet-to-be-announced pre-selected budget proposals was promised, which will be, er, something to look forward to...

A brief discussion followed on the issue of council mergers with Kevin Madge pleased that the best council in Wales would remain intact; the "huge monster" of Dyfed would be kept at bay, for now. Along with any threat to his £48k per year.

So with the future still "fluid"; and not one Executive Board Member even suggesting that they put up a fight to protect frontline services, and all looking a little bored, the official meeting closed.

Ramping up council tax, or discussing the £100m the council holds in reserves wasn't mentioned of course. It would have been like swearing at a polite tea party.

Before they could have their lunch though the assembled scattering of town and community councillors had to be disposed of.

We were invited to join the merry group from County Hall, introduced ourselves, were welcomed by Kev, (a strange strangled noise when it came to me, and the chief executive had a sudden interest in the ceiling of Rhys Pritchard Memorial Hall) and we were then subjected to yet another presentation.

This time it was by Wendy Walters, now an interim chief executive, on the marvels of Llandovery regeneration. Questions (limited to local community council matters) were allowed and there was much waffle about enterprise zones and rural regeneration, and no straight answers.

One asked whether Llanwrda and Llansadwrn Primary Schools were still due to close at some point in the near future; the answer, from the Director of Education was that due to falling numbers they were not educationally viable and alternative methods of delivering education were being considered...a simple "yes" would have done.

As far as I am aware, each of the community councils present are quite adept at phoning or emailing the appropriate council department if they have a query, or even tackling the grants system. I also know that my community council has a free range public question time. The whole event was superfluous and faintly ridiculous.

Given the idiotic way in which these highly remunerated assembled Members of the ruling administration voted last week to ban themselves from asking questions, their idea of scrutiny and debate, over the coming financially difficult months doesn't bear thinking about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please tell me that CCC are not going to pump public money into Llandovery College ?