Wednesday 5 October 2011

Council Motion Blocked by Chief Executive

Further to Monday's post Motion of no confidence in Meryl I hear that Cllr Arthur Davies, the proposer, recieved an email this morning from Chief Executive blocking the motion. Sadly I am not surprised that, given a couple of days, a way would be found to get round this.
Cllr Davies' colleague, Cllr Caiach, responds;

"Cllr Arthur Davies received an email this morning from chief executive Mark James saying that he is rejecting the motion of no confidence in the council leader because some of the matters raised in Cllr Davies' motion will be discussed later in the same meeting.

It for the chair to decide what is acceptable and legal .I have never heard such a pathetic excuse to reject a properly constituted motion submitted in good time.

What is relevant is that although he offers Cllr Arthur Davies the opportunity of putting the motion in again next month, the council will be asked by Cllr Gravell to change the rules of debate this month to increase the number of proposers of a single motion to at least 7 councillors. Mark James is counting on Cllr Davies not being able to get six signatories behind him next month.

Mark James has his salary reviewed by the leader and Meryl Gravell is responsible for him earning more than Carwyn Jones and also for the best paid directors of services in Wales with all of them over £100,000 p a.

Carmarthenshire has become a dictatorship. There is no point in having elected councillors if the rules change at the whim of the Chief Executive.

Where else would an unelected chief executive refuse to allow the councillors to debate a vote of no confidence. I understand his loyalty to his cash cow, Meryl Gravell, but where is democracy?"

Following on from 'In the shadows of County Hall'   Cllr Caiach has had a charming response to her complaint from the acting Head of Law and Monitoring Officer, Carmarthenshire Council. Cllr Caiach has as you will read below, replied.

Dear Cllr. Caiach,
This is not a Monitoring Officer matter.

The Business Management Group (known at one time as the "Modernising Local Government Group") is an informal Advisory Panel appointed by the Executive Board and advises on constitutional, modernising and housekeeping issues. It has 6 members (and 3 permanent substitutes). Although it does not need to be, it is in fact politically balanced. Sorry to be so blunt, but with your group being so small you would not be represented on it.

You are not "disenfranchised" in that the BMG has no decision making powers in that it merely "advises" the Executive Board. Constitutional reform is a Council function and whilst the Executive Board can make recommendations to the Council on constitutional matters the actual decisions can only be taken by the Council, so your group has its say and vote at full Council.

You are not "discriminated" against nor are your "human rights" breached in that it is the small size of your group which stops you from having representation on it, not any discriminatory practices.

Linda Rees-Jones
Acting Head of Administration & Law

and the reply;
Dear Ms Rees Jones,

Thank you for your reply. I am seriously concerned that you dismiss Human Rights Law and discrimination so casually and even refer to human rights in inverted commas. In my own profession, as a forensic physician, which is governed by the Human Rights Act, a written statement by myself which mentioned human rights in such a fashion would lead to severe reprimand not only by my superiors but by any defence counsel or judge in any case where I gave evidence.

It is interesting that the group apparently does not make decisions other than the decision on how to advise the executive. However, in council minutes there has never been to my recollection a case of their advice being rejected, simply a record that they have requested or formulated whatever to be done and it has been agreed. If they are merely advisory there must be many occasions where their advice has been amended or rejected and I would like some exemplar minutes to show that their advice is debated and not simply accepted every time.
I would like to see the documentation of the Modernising Local Government Group, how it was constituted and the minutes of the meeting at which it was formed as well as any mention of timescale and review period.

Also can I see the documentation of the name change to BMG and the council minutes related to this, whether there was any change of remit etc or change of composition.

Is there a chair of this group who delivers the report to cabinet and does the chair stay the same or rotate and if there is one, who is it? When I have observed the executive board meetings the reports of the BMG are not formerly presented there by a representative of the BMG. When does this happen?

Could you please list all the members of the BMG and state which officers attend the meetings. Is a legal representative present who checks the legality and probity of what is discussed?
If the meetings are not minuted how do the members scrutinise what is being passed on to the executive board?.

What is the legal position under local government law on advisory bodies set up in this manner which consist of members of the council who are not specifically elected to these posts by the full council. Who appoints the members of this group?

This group is using public funds, is unrepresentative, probably in reality does make decisions as I am unaware of incidences where its advice has been rejected by the Executive Boards, and is discriminatory to individual councillors and small groups.

Finally, addressing you as Monitoring Officer, please make a statement on your own position as regards the Human Rights Act 1998 and exactly how you see this legislation impacting on a county council. You imply that a small group has less rights in your eyes than a large group and I presume therefore that unaffiliated members are similarly regarded by you, Madame Monitoring Officer? At what level of number of councillors do legal Human Rights become significant to our monitoring officer? Also, what is your consideration of the rights of the several thousand electors that myself and cllrs A.Davies and John Jenkins represent?

Cllr Sian Caiach
People First Group


Martin Milan said...

I'm sorry?

How the hell can the council, or worse still an unelected member of the council's staff, decide that a no-confidence vote will not be debated?

Keep fighting Jacqui.


Photon said...

"Pathetic" is the only word that my gobsmaked face can muster.

Are there any links to the Syrian leadership at Carms? The desperate clinging-on to power seems very similar.

caebrwyn said...

I have no idea - it's reaching a point where the entire body of councillors is becoming superfluous to requirements, if the Constitution is tweaked much more they will be.
It is only the councillors who can fight back against this officer dominated, undemocratic council but out of 74 of them only 2 are prepared to do so. There are a few others now who have woken up to what is going on and hopefully they will put party politics aside and add their voices to the growing discontent.

Tessa said...

Just before the last county elections, in the winter/early spring, , all serving councillors were given £5,000 to spend on their communities. Carmarthenshire Ratepayers Association objected to the Electoral Services Commission about this, stating it was hardly fair for serving councillors to be able to increase their popularity among the electorate, using council taxpayers own money, in a way other candidates couldn't afford. I can't remember the exact detail of the waffly response - but something along the lines of it being OK as it was public money! Of course the motives of the Council, in particular the officers for finding the money to be available to spend, was clearly to keep the status quo, as thats the way they like it. Officer led, councillors in the main just nodding dogs.

nospin said...

Clearly a pseudo democracy down there.

Refuse a motion of no confidence on tenuous grounds and possibly exercising power he doesn't actually have, then offer it next month but change the number of seconders needed.

Why do your councillors put up with this man and all his highly over paid directors. If they are not prepared to do the job you need a bunch of independents to stand, or a party that is set up to get rid of the execs and then stand down for a new election.

Cneifiwr said...

The Photon's use of the word "gobsmacking" is absolutely justified. I have pointed out elsewhere that Carmarthenshire's Constitution is hardly an ancient, venerable charter - in fact it is just a few years old. Despite that, it has been subject to almost continuous tweaking, and every change has reduced the powers of elected councillors and diminished democracy. None of these changes has been reported in the press, and you have to plough through interminable back copies of minutes to find them.

It's the sort of thing you expect to see in countries like Zimbabwe, Burma or Putin's Russia.

As I discovered recently, the councillors themselves do not seem to understand the changes - at a recent meeting some councillors called for a recorded vote, only to discover that for committees this has been abolished. Only councillors who want their votes recorded have their names put down. Councillors who want to remain anonymous can hide the way they vote.

Anonymous said...

You are doing a great job bringing all this to light, Jacqui. For me, a big question is how to engage the wider population with issues of local democracy. I have the impression that many people, probably the majority, are just not interested.

caebrwyn said...

Agreed. So often, over the years, the word 'Council' is replaced by 'Chief Executive'. The list of delegated powers seems to get longer on a weekly basis. Changes are then rubber stamped by the Exec Board and passed quietly through council shrouded by incomprehensible legal jargon.
Possibly the most staggering change to me was to allow the instigation and funding of libel claims on behalf of officers which, despite my efforts to inform Cllrs at the time (2008), seemed to go unnoticed. Many Cllrs at the time complained that the 80 page document (there were other changes too) had arrived late or not at all and they didn't have the chance to study it. At the AGM, the Leader rubbished the complaints and insisted that all changes were passed and if anyone wanted to challenge anything they could try at a later date - this is nigh on impossible of course.
The constitution itself should contain a list of amendments going back over the past 5 years or so. Maybe a FoI request is needed.
I wonder whether the recent changes passed at the last Exec Board meeting will go smoothly through the next full council meeting? I hope a few concerns are raised - very loudly.

It is difficult to get people interested, use of social media etc has helped improve the situation and I am vaguely optimistic that there will be a surge of interest prior to next year's local elections. I shall certainly try and promote this in Carmarthenshire.
The problem is also down to the Council - despite the 'core values' to promote public engagement they would far rather avoid any public scrutiny whatsoever - as I, and others have discovered. With their bizarre restrictive entry procedures now in place for accessing the public gallery this is just one example of how anyone wishing to engage with the 'democratic' process is made to feel distinctly unwelcome.

Nospin said...

This is so anti democratic I have to ask where are the media, especially Wales's own daily paper.

Don't they have a reporter who cares about democracy.

Doesn't the Beeb have reporters /correspondents / bloogers who care about democracy.

Cneifiwr said...

Like you, I was tempted to make an FOI request for details of the numerous changes to the constitution, but I can say with certainty that it would be rejected on the basis that all of the changes are contained in scores of documents (minutes, etc.) which are available online.

Anyone wishing to spend a couple of days trawling through a mountain of documents will be able to find the answer.

Transparency in action.