Sunday 30 October 2011

Back to Business

Well, back down to earth and back to business. And back to those changes to the constitution mentioned in recent posts (here and here for instance). Someone asked me yesterday whether it was a common requirement throughout Welsh councils for several councillors to have to sign a Motion before it will be accepted.
There was only one way to find out so I duly trawled through the Standing Orders for all 22 Welsh local authorities looking for that particular point. (I was only beaten by Merthyr Council's website which is either undergoing a major overhaul, or, they haven't bothered with a constitution). All of them apart from two specified that one Member, or sometimes two (proposer and seconder) can put forward such a proposal.
One of the two guilty parties is Blaenau Gwent Borough Council who require five - the other of course is our own Carmarthenshire Council with a spectacular democracy-breaking seven! Eight if you include the proposer.

Another subtle change which seemed to pass with little comment was the removal of the usual right to present a petition to a full council meeting. This, I assume, was a reaction to the farcical way the Day Centre petition was dealt with by executive officers on the 8th June. Petitions will still have to be signed by at least 50 people and arrive at the Chief Executive's office seven day's before the next council meeting but it is at that point that things change;

The 'Rule' has been altered from;

"10.11 At a meeting of the Council any member of the Council or any local government elector of the county may....present to the Chair or other person presiding a written petition which is relevant to some matter in relation to which the authority have functions..."

and will now read;

"10.11 Any member of the Council or any government elector of the County may forward to the Chief Executive a written petition which is relevant to some matter in relation to which the authority have functions..."

As I understand it now, you do not have the right to 'present' the petition to the (elected) Chair but must 'forward' it to the (unelected) Chief Executive who will then decide whether it can be considered by Members. In other words, it's now up to the Chief Executive whether or not your petition will be heard at a full council meeting. Or at any meeting for that matter.
It is odd really that such basic elements of democracy and debate are not uniform throughout Wales -it seems that the levels of democratic accountability are a bit of a 'post code lottery'. Councils of course, need to reflect local conditions regarding bin emptying policy or road repair protocol and suchlike but when it comes to protecting the our basic democratic rights, if a Council behaves in an irrational and reactionary manner (as is the wont of Carms CC) and elected members fail for whatever reasons to defend not only our rights, but theirs too, then someone should step in. There doesn't seem to be a 'someone' out there though. It should be noted that the body who proposed these changes was the aforementioned, un-minuted, agenda-less, officer led 'Business Management Group'.

Resident's petitions, irritating Motions on Notice, members of the public, etc are all a bit awkward aren't they? They disturb the old boy's club, the 'port and cigars' atmosphere and the highly controlled pretence of debate. Like any good dictatorship, if there's dissent in the ranks - stamp it out.

Oh and I nearly forgot, Carmarthenshire Council's legal and FoI departments take note, my full name and address have been published yet again, on the What Do They Know site. This time on the response to the internal review, on both the HTML and download versions. I have reported this, along with the four week delay, to the Information Commissioner. I sometimes wonder whether this Council actually realises that request made through WDTK are on the new-fangled interweb?


Cneifiwr said...

This is a very interesting and disturbing post - well done for spotting the change in rules on petitions which slipped through unnoticed and undebated.

As we have both noted before, there is continuous tinkering with the constitution - remarkable for a document which is only a few years old - to the point where it might as well be reduced to a single sentence: "The Chief Executive will decide".

The agenda for today's Executive Board shows that more (unspecified) changes are being planned for the early part of next year (see the Work Programme).

Anonymous said...

There is a some-one out there, but unfortunately his name is Carl Sergeant, and he just doesn't get it!!!

Photon said...

What is needed with councils like Carms is for all concerned, sensible citizens to 'provide information' on such issues of wide public interest to the Welsh Audit Office.

Hardly a body without its own problems, the WAO does nevertheless seem to be able to cut through the fog of local authority bollocks and come up with some pretty damning reports - such as in the case of crackpot Anglesey Council.

In the end, this will provide a body of evidence from the public that can be matched against evidence arising from within councils.

caebrwyn said...

I had a message from Merthyr which confirms that the number of signatories to a Notice on Motion is 2.