Thursday, 15 January 2015

January meeting

The new year kicked off with almost full attendance at yesterday's monthly council meeting with only a handful of absentees. As usual everyone was upstanding for the entry of the Chair, Vice Chair and chief executive. A word here to any possible new chief exec; standing for the Chair and Vice Chair is archaic and bad enough, but standing for the CEO, any CEO, is met with ridicule and disbelief across the nation.

The meeting passed without major incident and the chief exec seemed particularly subdued. Perhaps, after last week's revelations from Cllr Higgins, he's realised there are more traitors in the chamber than he first thought....

I'm only going mention a couple of points, as the whole event is now available on archive.

The newly appointed Director of Environmental Services was welcomed along with the astonishing news that she is a woman, the 'first female Director' the council had ever had apparently. You would think the authority would be a little embarrassed to admit to such a 'first', but not at all, even mentioning it in the titkle of their press release. Welcome to 2015. Incredible.

Next on the agenda was a presentation from the ladies of the CSSIW, the social care inspectorate, with their annual report. Seasoned observers will note that the annual round of jargon-bingo can be played at this point as they triangulated and evaluated for twenty minutes or so.

Joking apart this is an important document but, surely it wasn't necessary for the CSSIW to take over twenty minutes to explain their role and the contents of the report, which has been floating around since October. It should already have been read and the time devoted a to a brief summary and a lot of questions.

Although there was room for improvement, apparently the council were moving in a sustainable strategic collaborative direction, you get the drift. The first question came from Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) who reminded everyone that there was a human element to all this and wondered when an autistic gentleman in his ward would get the help he needed. Obviously this threw the ladies off their performance indicators and the chief exec stepped in to remind everyone to avoid individual issues.
In social care the human element is what its all about not projected outcomes or national thematic reviews.

The meeting eventually moved on to the first of two notices on motion. The first, put forward by Cllr Sharen Davies (Lab) was for all councillors to undergo DRB background checks. For reasons which remain unknown, Cllr Davies had withdrawn this motion and referred it to the executive board instead..

The second motion was from the Plaid group leader Cllr Emlyn Dole for the authority to become a 'paperless council', or at least make the effort. I mentioned this here. He pointed out that it had cost the council around £300 to send out the papers for that meeting alone, roughly the cost of an iPad, and the total cost for last year was £44,000.

The motion was pretty much supported with Kev saying it was a 'journey' and wouldn't happen overnight. They might still need paper said another. Ah, true. Cllr Sharen Davies, giggling, said she hoped councillors wouldn't use iPads to record or film meetings. God forbid.

I can imagine a similar conversation when they moved from quills to ink pens a couple of years ago. By the way, Executive Board members have all now been supplied with iPads.

The Council''s Modernising Education Programme came up later in the meeting with opposition councillors questioning, in so many words, whether the mass closure of rural schools and the creation of several shiny new buildings was having the desired result of an improvement in educational standards. No one ever seems to know.

One proposed new build school in Llanelli required approval for a consultation exercise and the local member voiced residents' concerns that the access route which the plans showed, was not the best option. The Director of Education said that the matter was out of his hands as the Welsh Government would not now fund any works outside the boundary line of any proposed new school.

Cllr Caiach supported the local member and made the point that the newly-opened-with-a-fanfare Furnace School in Llanelli varied considerably from the plans which originally went out to consultation - resulting in a daily traffic nightmare.

This was all getting too much for some and the Chair, as if controlled by an unseen hand from his left, came out with the 'it's not on the agenda' silencing tactic.

Another opposition councillor wondered why £150,000 was being dug out of the apparently precious reserves to part fund a private developer to construct a public car park in Laugharne, the territory of Executive Board Member Cllr Jane Tremlett (Ind). Why, he wondered, wasn't this part of a S106 agreement? I mentioned this last month (at the end of this post) and was equally curious,

Unfortunately there was no straight answer forthcoming from anyone and "there's nowhere in Carmarthenshire that needs another car park as much as Laugharne does" was as good as it got.

It was also revealed that the council paid £35,000 for a plot of land near Jackson's Lane in Carmarthen. According to the chief executive the original asking price was £100,000 so this was a "snip". It's a little worrying to Caebrwyn that he considers thirty-odd grand a 'snip'...

It was also confirmed that 'Public Questions' will now be a permanent feature on full council agendas. They have to relate to a matter for which the council has responsibility or affects the county.

The current arrangements are that your question  must be delivered "in writing or by electronic mail to the Chief Executive no later than midday 7 working days before the day of the meeting. Each question must give the name and address of the questioner and must name the member of the Council to whom it is to be put."
The contact details can be found on the council website - get asking!

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