Wednesday 14 September 2011

Carry on Council - The Farce Continues...

A few words about today's visit to the full council meeting at County Hall (turned out to be quite a few words). I was yet again asked to read the laminated A4 warning and sign the undertaking etc etc, even though I had signed one last Monday. Once everyone was duly processed the two members of staff were again deployed to escort us to the Gallery. This time I asked whether the door (which has the phone by it to call for release) could be opened by pressing the exit button, the officer said no, it was locked. After about ten minutes the officer came into the public gallery to tell me it could be opened but the next door along couldn' locked in then. When you leave the gallery (and not everyone leaves at the same time of course) and phone to be let out, the two members of staff seem to be on permanent standby and emerge from what appears to be a cupboard somewhere up towards the roof, (there must be an office up there somewhere...I hope...) you are then escorted back to reception. The undertaking and newly needed passes are also a useful way for the council to monitor who exactly is attending the meetings.

Before I mention the meeting, I see that another Carmarthenshire blogger, @Towy71 attempted to view our wonderful democratic process today but he refused to sign, was not given an explanation, and was turned away. He was shocked and has now written to seven Assembly Members to voice his concerns.

Here is his blogpost;

"Open Governance
This morning I tried to get to see my county council in action but was refused entry until I had signed some piece of paper which I refused to do. I asked under what rule they were restricting my access to the public gallery but they could not or would not answer; however they said someone would come down and explain to me why I had to sign this undertaking.
Chris Burns identified himself as deputy chief executive, he told me that council rules dictated that I sign the form but he could not or would not specify which rule, under the constitution or standing orders, restricted access to the public gallery.
It is the first time I have ever been turned away from a council meeting and I have to say that I am not best pleased. I shall be writing to my MP, AM and I will be talking to my local councillor."
(An Oik What Blogs)
I will not be signing another undertaking, the whole palaver is appalling, unlawful and totally misguided. This all needs to be looked at urgently by whoever it is that has the power, Carl Sargeant I presume?? I will be contacting my AM, MP and Mr Sargeant tomorrow.

On to the meeting and I attempted to tweet and did my best, but it is difficult in the gloom of the oppressive Public Gallery...I need to return to other methods. The first thing that was said (somewhat out of the blue) came from Llanelli Plaid Councillor Winston Lemon; "could the Chair please control this meeting rather than the Chief Executive?", the eminent Chair, Cllr Ivor Jackson couldn't believe his loyal ears, rattled his chain, and asked the errant Member to repeat what he had said, the Member duly obliged and added that the Chief Executive prompted the Chair throughout all the meetings. There were a couple of oohs and aahs but I have to say, little disagreement with what he'd said.

The decision to keep monitoring the excessive pollution in Llandeilo was passed still without any practical steps being promised other than a letter to the Welsh Government about the by-pass (ongoing for 25 years but it appears the Council have decided to build the new superschool on one of the preferred routes and of course the school itself will add to the problem).

Next up was the issue of single pay status, (there was an article in today's Carmarthen Journal). As I said previously, Cllr Sian Caiach had submitted a Notice of Motion which, recognising the difficulties of the situation, merely requested negotiations be re-opened with the Unions, as Councillors, as employers, were being approached by many council employees with desperate concerns. The Motion was rejected before the meeting. As I have said, it is the Chief Executive who has the discretion whether or not to allow Motions to Full Council. You would think this was an entirely appropriate proposal for all councillor to consider wouldn't you? Anyway, the Chief Executive had a pre-prepared, lengthy speech on the subject then closed the debate. (More on this soon).

With regards to procedure, next week's Executive Board meeting has an interesting item which includes Constitutional changes to Council Procedural Rules (Standing Orders), Firstly attempts have been made to deflect the recent flurry of Motions for full council (an almost spontaneous expression of democracy made by councillors with resident's concerns at heart - none of which have been frivolous nor inappropriate for full council), Motions will now have to be signed by at least seven Members to even be considered. Spontaneous democracy out of the window then. I also wonder whether the Chair/Chief Executive had the power to adjourn a meeting following a disturbance by a member of the public (putting aside, for the moment, the fact that I did not disturb the meeting on the 8th June) as one of the amendments is to change;

'If a member of the public interrupts proceedings, the Chair will warn the person concerned. If they continue to interrupt, the Chair will order their removal from the meeting room'to (underlined);

'If a member of the public interrupts proceedings, the Chair will warn the person concerned. If they continue to interrupt, the Chair will order their removal from the meeting room. The Chair may adjourn the meeting for as long as he/she thinks necessary'

Oh well the meeting on the 19th September should prove interesting.

I left today's meeting after a couple of hours during a lengthy discussion (over half an hour and still going strong) over the closure/transfer of public toilets. I had to go (so to speak). An important issue of course and a penny pinching cost cutting move which affects quality of life, tourism etc. The amount to be saved (about £200k) is slightly less than was given to the evangelical church towards the speculative bowling alley a few weeks ago, or the cost of refurbishing the council offices in Spilman Street.

Update 15th September
I have now emailed Jonathan Edwards MP, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM and Minister for Local Government Carl Sargeant AM to contact Carmarthenshire Council and insist that all the restrictive measures for accessing the Public Gallery are lifted with immediate effect. I shall post any replies on this blog.


Cneifiwr said...

Ah yes, the top secret toilets (the ones they discussed in camera in a recent Executive Board meeting). And something smells a bit, well, whiffy here. Originally the plan was going to save £139k, then it was £45k, and now it's £200k. Is this an exciting new game everyone can play?

As for the intimidating entry procedures, the public gallery was packed at this morning's planning meeting. Members of the public started signing in at about 9.15, but everyone was penned like sheep in reception. Rather than take people up in groups, everyone had to wait to be escorted en masse. So the public missed the first 10 minutes of the meeting, which was then disrupted by the chair (in a good way) who wanted to make sure they all had headsets. This took a little while because there were not enough headsets, and then it turned out that only about 10 people can actually use them up in the gallery because there aren't enough plugs.

I turned up just in time to see a very oleaginous looking Mark James emerge grinning from the main entrance and get into his smart black BMW (a snip at £50k no doubt), presumably off to check the PV panels on his Grade 2 listed cowshed.

Anonymous said...

what is the actual seating capacity for the public? (not to be confused with the other anonymous lol).. i shall be known as anon2