Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The long and winding road

Way back in May 2013, following a Wales-wide survey which found that residents in Carmarthenshire felt least able to influence decisions made in County Hall, the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee set up a cross-party group  to look at how 'public engagement' could be improved.

It was not just the survey of course, there was the unhealthy relationship between the County Hall and the local press, the question of email snooping and the fact that it was not just the public who felt 'disengaged' but the majority of councillors as well; all of which, and more, was raising awareness that governance of the council was officer-led and not fit for purpose.
Some of us had been saying that for some time.

In Janaury 2014 the shocking Wales Audit Office reports were published over the pension and libel indemnity scandals. This added to the remit and urgency of the committee's work. The WAO report concerning the libel indemnity joined the list of background papers for consideration.

The committee issued a draft report in July 2014 (see blog post 'Getting Engaged') which included the interesting graphic from an unnamed councillor;

Although several recommendations were made including improving executive board minutes, reviewing the restrictive call-in procedure and training Members to use social media, the report didn't go nearly far enough nor sufficiently make the link between public engagement and good governance - nor that a change of culture and therefore a change of executive, was necessary.

July 2014 also saw the WLGA governance review and when their damning report was published in November, the toxic culture was finally recognised and council governance found 'not fit for purpose'.

As you will recall, yet another cross party group was set-up, this time to consider the 38 recommendations in the WLGA report and the 'change of culture' required. Meetings have been held but astonishingly they've been held behind closed doors and no minutes nor agendas have been published... 

This long and protracted process, kick-started, in my view, by events of June 2011, has taken place against a background of open hostility from the chief officer with the ruling executive veering to and fro from denial to reluctant acceptance.

The point of this post is that the final report (the original 2013 'public engagement' one I mean) is on the Executive Board agenda on Monday. A summary of the recommendations can be found here and will then be considered, (once approved by the Executive Board on Monday), by the group considering the WLGA report. (Sorry if I've lost you, I'm lost myself).

There is one late, but important additional recommendation to the 2013 report which I trust the Executive Board and the WLGA group will endorse;

“To increase public engagement in the Council’s decision making process, the Executive Board be requested to consider providing a 15 minute slot at the start of all Executive Board and Executive Board Member decision meetings to afford members of the public and Councillors an opportunity to raise questions / make comments on any agenda item before decisions are made.”

Amongst the 38 WLGA recommendations were calls for an urgent review over 'exempt' reports (when press public and even backbench councillors are booted out); not only whether it was actually necessary for some reports to be exempt but also the need to allow non-executive councillors to remain as observers and be given as much documentation as possible.

This includes Executive Board Member meetings which are all, bizarrely, 'exempt' as a matter of course; a couple of specific examples which show the clear need for urgent change include the signing -off of millions of pounds in grants by Meryl in fifteen minutes, and earlier, Cllr Pam Palmer, along with the press manager Debbie Williams deciding between themselves that there were no issues with the 'freedom of the local press' in Carmarthenshire whatsoever... 

A review is long overdue as Monday's Exec Board meeting itself has two reports recommended for exemption and which may or may not be connected...'Item 13. Danyrallt Estate, Llangadog and Item 14. 'Fishing rights'.

They could be about anything, there not even a hint on the agenda as to why they're there or why they will be exempt so we can only speculate....maybe Mr James is set to become Lord of the Manor as part of his severance deal...(I'm joking of course)

What with everything; the WAO reports, the WLGA review, press, media and email reviews; assorted cross-party groups and enough recommendations and findings to sink a battleship, from where I'm sitting, very little has changed yet, and nothing will until the old culture is removed once and for all.

We are stuck with the elected leadership as it is for now but as I mentioned here, the editor of the South Wales Guardian summed up the core of the problem in this week's paper;

"...The council's leadership claim they are seeking to turn over a new leaf. That cannot happen while Mr James remains in post..."

Hopefully that hurdle will soon be gone.


Redhead said...

You will find this VERY interesting too:

Anonymous said...

What a shame the CCC had a peer review carried out by the WLGA instead of a more robust, less partisan Special Investigation by the WAO.

After reading your Link "Redhead" this would have needed to be carried out inside the first couple of years after we were presented with Mark James as CEO.

The rot is well ingrained now and having most of the "wrong uns" supposedly attempting to change the culture they allowed to infest the workings of the council in the first place and to allow the CEO and monitoring officer to oversee this group is laughable.

There are so many conflicts of interests between POVA, Complaints & Management that coverups and coercion's the only way to manage Whistleblowing disclosures and complaints. I can but deduce planning complaints and social care complaints handling are also tarred with the same brush after reading some of the Ombudsman reports about the ccc.

Of course my own experience reinforces my opinion as does the vindictiveness of officers, CEO and executive members in regard to Jacqui.

Maladministration should be substituted with MISCONDUCT in PUBLIC OFFICE and passed on to be investigated by the CID as that is a common law offence

I admire and respect Jacqui and am upset that our public funds were given illegally to Mark James to claim against her. I personally take the contents of the JUDGEMENT against Jacqui with a pinch of salt as after reading the ET JUDGEMENT after my claim failed I know the legal system in this country is biased towards the powerful and rich and turn a blind eye to their perjury and their perverting the course of justice.

No wonder the HOME OFFICE wants to be rid of having to answer to the ECHR and not have to abide by the Human Rights Act.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)