Wednesday 11 January 2012

Private Eye again! - and today's full Council meeting

Latest issue - 1305
Well done to Carmarthenshire Council for appearing for a FOURTH time in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs - is anyone getting the message yet?

I was unaware of this latest mention as I ventured once more (into the breach dear friends) of the Public Gallery at County Hall for the meeting of Full Council. I will not repeat again the ridiculous entry procedure other than to mention that whoever is in charge of all this (I was told by the Assistant Chief Executive, on the 13th July that entry is entirely at the discretion of the Chief Executive) has decided that children must also sign the undertaking or they too will be banned from observing the democratic process. A lady visited today and wished to bring her 14 year old son, Jeno. He is home educated and wanted to observe proceedings. She was shocked and told me afterwards that she had questioned, in reception, whether a minor should have to sign, and whether it was even legal for them to ask him to do it. The staff phoned to some higher authority who insisted he signed. This cannot be right - it is unlawful, in my opinion, for adults to sign but children?..bloody anyone going to challenge this?

Well, onto the meeting and as you may imagine there were some formal congratulations for Mr James and his CBE. Cllr Sian Caiach then spoke and added her tribute, I think those present may have been lulled into a false sense of security as she immediately mentioned that there was 'another' award which they might not be quite so proud of and that of course, was the one in Private Eye, in the highly competitive Legal Bully of the Year category.
This was not going down too well, Mr James was shifting around uncomfortably and Cllr Ivor Jackson was attempting to shut Cllr Caiach up. Undaunted, she continued and offered the apologies of the entire council to Jacqui Thompson (indicating me) for their actions which led to my arrest. I wonder if all this will be in the Minutes for once? It was perhaps all the more poignant as the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police was also there, on the 'top table' waiting to give his powerpoint presentation about the cash strapped force.

Briefly silenced, Cllr Caiach then challenged the inaccuracy of the minutes from a previous meeting (give that lady a medal). She said that this sort of thing (a very common occurence) could be resolved if the Council used the audio equipment already in place, more or less) and recorded the meetings. She hoped the group leaders would agree to this. A rather irate Exec Board Member, Cllr Pam Palmer said 'they' were thinking about it anyway but if it cost 'one penny' on the budget, they wouldn't countenance it (my mind immediately pictured the piles of cash 'they' have bestowed on the evangelical bowling alley). Of course, if they did record and archive the meetings, one of their main worries about members of the public filming meetings and 'editing' the material which might make some of them look silly (sorry Pam, nobody has to edit anything to do that) would be redundant, as a true record would be preserved by the council. I could be allowed to film!

Moving on, to what was becoming quite a lively meeting, next up was Mr Ian Arundale, Chief plod. The purpose of the talk and the powerpoint, (and I am not going to debate the finances of the police force here) was that huge cuts were being made of course, from central government and he was there cap in hand for an extra 5% from the council. Much debate ensued, as it has around the UK I believe, his BMW was mentioned as well as the brand spanking new Major Incident Unit in Carmarthen, (this is just in case a white elephant goes on the rampage). However the concensus of opinion, after about an hour, which on the whole I wouldn't argue with, was that Dyfed Powys should have their 5%, in fact this was proposed and seconded. Several minutes of total confusion ensued until Mr James said that it would not be legal for the Council Members to decide this - I am not sure who could..the Police authority perhaps. Anyway that was that and Mr Arundale declined an invite to remain for the rest of the meeting, and off he went, escorted by Mr James.

There was an interesting discussion involving the 'Modernising Education Programme' - One Councillor questioned why Seaside School in Llanelli had had to wait years for funding for a new school, thankfully, Mr James explained all. If local people had not objected to the site selected by the council (he said that he had told the councillor this previously, in "words of one syllable") then it would have been built, as such there was a five year delay. He also warned there would be an eight year delay if anyone dared to object to the siting of the new Furnace School in Llanelli (there have been objections and Cllr Caiach was pilloried in November's meeting for doing so). So we can now confirm - and take note those who may dare to disagree with the siting of the new superschool in Ffairfach - that the consultation process was, and is, a complete sham after all. Do it our way or not at all. How democratic.

Last but not least (there was more but I think I have gone on long enough for now, anyway) was the bizarre press release written, approved, published, then pulled after a couple of hours from the Council website. (a somewhat diluted version appeared in the paper) Peter Hughes Griffiths, the Plaid leader led the charge. The main concern was that major decisions had been concerning the budget by a couple of ruling members with diddly squat consultation with any other elected members, with the additional swipe at the Plaid opposition, it was nothing more than blatant electioneering. He siad the people of Carmarthenshire deserved better. The Chief Executive, the Leader and co all tried to gloss over it all, Cllr Pam Palmer (Ind) said she was becoming very angry with such nonsense from Plaid and was beginning to look very cross indeed. However, before blows were exchanged Mr James interjected, carefully explaining (in words of one syllable again) that the ruling administration, as the 'Government' of Carmarthenshire' were 'procedurally' correct in making such decisions and announcing it to the press....
To be honest I became a bit lost at the astounding logic at this point - this was a bloody scandal, and they know it. Please see yesterday's posts 'Short and Snappy' and 'You know there's an election on it's way' (the 'pulled' press release can be seen on the latter)

The meeting eventually concluded and we were escorted out, as usual, by two members of staff one of whom was the highly paid (I'm sure) Democratic Services Manager himself, not only highly ironic but an even greater waste of resources don't you think?

The press release story was picked up by yesterday's Western Mail 'Council staff used for 'blatant electioneering' claims Plaid'
'Chief executive Mark James said: “We follow very strict rules in terms of impartiality and I am satisfied that these rules have been adhered to in this case" - so that's why the article was pulled then was it??


Anonymous said...

If it wasnt so serious it would be funny.

Surely the Police Authority set the precept not the council.

In any case the CC could have more credibility if he and his deputy didnt claim thousands of pounds in bonuses whilst making staff members redundant !!

caebrwyn said...

@Anonymous Yes I imagine it is the Police Authority, so quite what the 'presentation' was for I'm not sure. I thought I should check about the bonuses and yes you are right;
However he appears to have declined one this year, I imagine a salary of around £135,000 is sufficient. Though he doesn't do quite as well, in pay terms, as our Council Chief Executive.

Cneifiwr said...

Yes, you're right - it is the Police Authority which sets both the precept and the budget. Which makes you wonder why the chief constable came to "ask" the council.

He began well but went over the top more than once, and let himself down badly when he had to admit that he did not know what the precept was as a share of overall police funding. As he wanted a 5% increase in it, you would think he would know what that amounted to.

He also raised the spectre of terrorism and warned about the effect of the Olympics several times in his speech. Somehow, I cannot see Dyfed Powys as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism - we've got plenty of Christian nutters, though.

Tessa said...

I believe the cops always get the precept they ask for. First they confuse the councillors with financial jargon. Then they threaten cuts of services which will increase crime. They continue to drive luxury vehicles, and splurge our cash on heicopters, call centres, luxurious head office etc. etc. So its the same-old same-old.

caebrwyn said...

The police station in Llandovery was going to close a few years ago - crime rates are low to say the least - but as soon as HRH Charlie bought his Welsh pad in Myddfai, the money was soon found to not only keep it open but give it a very smart re-fit. Which brings me on to the police helicopter which can often been seen busily flying round these parts when Chaz and Camilla drop by. A FoI request in April 2010 revealed that the helicopter had been used 481 times in 2009 but only 198 of those were directly to investigate, assist or to detect a crime. It costs around £750k a year. Having said that, I would not want to see it go, just used properly please. The one helicopter which I believe is even more essential in these rural parts is the Wales Air Ambulance, which I believe is run on charity.
I am sure that sending two police cars and four coppers to County Hall because someone is filming a meeting doesn't help the budget either...

Anonymous said...

Got £75 to hand? Form FP3 to the local county court. "Under statutory provision s.1(4)(c) Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960". Box 3 "from excluding any member of the public from any meeting open to the public for the purposes of the Act, and from making admission to any such meeting conditional upon any undertaking by a member of the public; from imposing any further such restriction in future without the leave of a District Judge, any application for such to be heard in public". Box 4 "rescind or consider to be rescinded any such undertaking already made by any member of the public, publish a notice announcing such in any relevant newspapers, and prominently display notices at the locations of any such meeting announcing that fact". Box 5 "the respondent to bear the costs of this application". Double-check with a solicitor, but that should be enough to really stir them up, and it may well be the only way of getting them to stop their nonsense.

Mike Rawlins said...

Interesting. So if I read this right, anon is suggesting that you take an injunction out against the council to stop them from restricting access to public meetings.

caebrwyn said...

@Mike Rawlins Yes it looks like this is a possibility - hopefully someone with legal knowledge in this area will come forward to assist, pro bono - if there is anyone out there, please email me.

Anonymous said...

Pro bono. We live in hope. Member of the law society via member of another society.