Thursday, 25 May 2017

Carmarthenshire Council AGM, a few points

(31st May - see added link)

Yesterday's AGM was quite a subdued affair, these things usually are, more a formality than a means of debate. The whole thing can of course be viewed on the archived webcast.
After the preliminary chain swapping ritual and speeches, with visiting dignitaries in attendance, the new Chair, Cllr Irfon Jones (Ind) stumbled into action.

New Chair (for clarity, it's the one with the chain)

Cllr Mansel Charles (Plaid) was also invested with chains of office as Vice-Chair. It'll be his turn to be Chair next year.
The nomination for Emlyn Dole as leader went unchallenged and he was duly 'elected' although the Labour group abstained.
Cllr Dole then announced the new Executive Board, adding economic regeneration and 'marketing and media' (including the press office) to his own portfolio.

There are seven Plaid members and three from the Independent Group giving Plaid overall control. Mair Stephens was reappointed to the board and, as leader of the Independent Group, which appears to be still going strong, has boosted her salary as deputy council leader.

A new portfolio of culture, sport and tourism was created for Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths and Glynog Davies (Plaid) has education. Jim Jones has been cast aside and replaced by fellow Independent Phillip Hughes on dog fouling duties and Plaid's Cefin Campbell leads on rural affairs and countering terrorism.

Dai Jenkins (Plaid) retains the portfolio for money, Hazel Evans (Plaid) retains roads and rubbish and Jane Tremlett (Ind), social care. Plaid's Linda Evans will be back in charge of housing once the Standards committee have given their nod of approval, due to the fact that she is Emlyn Dole's sister-in-law.
She might also be grateful for advice from the Chief Executive, now expanding his own portfolio with business interests (link added 31st May) in property management in Cardiff...

Emlyn Dole delivered his carefully crafted leader's speech which rambled on for some time, those listening to the English translation (it's very good btw) might have noticed the sound of a yawn half way through. Most of it was spin and naturally, with the general election only a couple of weeks away, resembled a party political broadcast on behalf of Plaid Cymru. Still, he was hardly going to say things were actually all a bit cr*p. To give an example of the spin, the wonderful new mobile library service with it's up-to-date vans was mentioned when, in actual fact, the service is being drastically cut and people will have to travel miles to one of the designated stops, so not so 'mobile' any more. And so on.

Much was made of the Swansea Bay City Deal of course with pictures of the cosy signing ceremony with Theresa May. No mention was made, however, of the as yet unknown millions the council will have to borrow to attract the (also as yet unknown) private investors.

The Labour leader Jeff Edmunds responded to the speech by reminding Cllr Dole that Plaid were just carrying on the policies started by Labour. True to form it wasn't exactly an inspiring response but was, he explained, without the benefit of a script. He sounded one warning bell over the £7m earmarked for a new care home in Llanelli. Was this £7m now going towards private health care in the Wellness Thing? A good question..

Everything else breezed through apart from a small hiccup during the amendments to the constitution item. Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny, clearly referring to the public speakers and the row over Llangennech School, wanted 'public questions' to be limited to a question plus a supplementary. Any preamble would be on the agenda but not spoken. It was not fair, he said, members of the public acted disgracefully, giving long speeches, and elected members were unable to respond.

In actual fact, elected members have numerous ways of responding, access to their own press team for one thing. His amendment, which will be passed on the Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) for consideration, is disappointing. Whilst allowing public questions might be occasionally challenging, there have been very few public questions at all and until 2015, when I popped into the Chamber with a question about that curious case of the car park deal, there'd been none for ten years.

The constitution itself (See Standing Orders Part 10) already restricts public questions to a question and a supplementary. I suggest extreme caution over any further restrictions and I suspect that such an amendment would never have been suggested whilst Plaid were in opposition.

Linda Rees Jones was 'embarrassed' as she'd forgotten to add to the rule book, back in June 2015, that members of the public were only allowed to film or record meetings which were already being webcast by the council. She thanked Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) for drawing it to her attention...
This leaves a ridiculous filming ban on all scrutiny meetings and the Audit, Democratic Services and Standards Committees. Presumably prison awaits any who dare record any of those.

It seems her shame didn't extend to the unlawful libel costs amendment which, for the third year running, remains, as I mentioned last week, in the constitution in suspended form, but maybe she's got her boss to thank for that. Something else for CRWG to consider...


Elderly Neil. said...

Everything under control as heretofore. Democracy a term I would not attach to it.

Cllr Alun Lenny said...

Having wandered on to CPP via Cneifiwr, I notice that I'm mentioned in dispatches. To explain. You correctly attributed my (personal) amendment to Council Procedure Rules - formerly Standing Orders - to the outrageous situation when the anti-Welsh Language Education brigade from Llangennech hijacked a County Council meeting by making lengthy speeches prior to asking their questions. During this tirade, we as elected members had no means of reply. And no, as individual councillors, we cannot use the Press Dept. If people care to look at the webcast, they'll see that I strongly support the provision for the public to ask questions. In my view, too few do that, which is why I actively urged them to do so. My gripe is with those who abuse the provision, hence my amendment.

caebrwyn said...

In my view adding further restrictions in the CPRs is a backward step. There is nothing on the council website to advise people how they can ask a question for a start, and of course we can ask questions at full council, Exec Board and Scrutiny meetings. Better public engagement, from policy decisions to the practicalities of asking a question is the answer, not more rules.
If you want to recommend something to CRWG, suggest they remove the suspended libel clause.

Verity said...

The link to Jac o' the North added 31 May is fascinating and extremely disturbing. Everyone should read it. We urgently need answers to some of the deeply worrying questions thrown up by these revelations.