Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Scrutiny Powers - remember?

Yesterday's Western Mail reports on how Cardiff Council's cabinet member for the economy is being called to answer questions in front of a scrutiny committee of councillors over the council's decision to buy a five acre site for £7.25m. I don't know the details of the decision but what interest me is that the scrutiny committee will add an extra level of democratic debate to what is clearly a major decision.

This serves as a timely reminder to Carmarthenshire Councillors that they too have this power, they can also call-in decisions made by the Executive Board and/or senior officers and request that the appropriate Executive Member or officer attends a scrutiny meeting to answer their concerns. I can think of several decisions which could have benefited from further scrutiny, and also a few ombudsman reports but, as you may expect, the Chief Executive and/or the Monitoring Officer has the right to veto any call-in, which, in Carmarthenshire, is a significant obstacle.


The minutes have been published from last week's full council meeting. As I said, it was fairly brief, but the 'official record' is even briefer. The minutes from the previous meeting were signed off as correct without question it seems, clearly Cllr Caiach's query as to why her request to record meetings wasn't minuted for the third time and the lengthy discussion about filming meetings didn't actually happen.

Amongst other things that 'didn't happen' was the discussion over the mysterious connection between Sainsbury's, the land deal and the school extension in Cross Hands.

Then we come to the Eastgate vision. I could have sworn I heard several councillors raising concerns about the wisdom of underwriting the costs to the Nottingham developer to the tune of £5m over twenty years by renting office space back off them, as well as spending £450,000 to subdivide the said offices, approved two days earlier at the Executive Board meeting. The carefully polished minutes merely state the official council spin; office staff will increase 'footfall' and surplus offices will be 'rationalised' - clearly the intent is to open council offices within every vanity project the taxpayer is forced to finance.


Whilst the Councillor's Allowance search facility on the council website continues to be a confused mess of double entries and missing claim forms, I was wondering how much in the way of expenses certain councillors receive for being on various external bodies, often paid by the bodies themselves, but public money all the same. Cllr Madge, for instance, is one of four deputy Chairs of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and of course Meryl sat on it for several years. Back in September 2010 the Executive Board, on the recommendation of the BMG (the Business Management Group, party leaders and officers as far as we know - no agendas, no minutes) decided that these expenses should be listed. They included;
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority;
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority;
West Wales Valuation Tribunal;
APSE (Association of Public Sector Excellence)
Welsh Local Government Association;
Dyfed Powys Police Authority;
Hywel Dda Community Health Council;
South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee;
CAVS (Carmarthenshire Association of Voluntary Services)

According to the 2011/2012 record of all payments to councillors, only the first two are listed, the BBNPA and the MWWFA. The Police Authority, after the election on Thursday, will become the Police and Crime Panel, still with Member representation. The WLGA website itself has no details of expenses paid to members or, for that matter the salaries of it's senior executives. I'm not saying that reasonable expenses should not be paid for members to attend the vast array of committees and panels which form a sub-strata of  Welsh governance, but transparency, as always, helps.

And do we know the expenses and allowances claimed by senior officers who sit on various Panels, Boards, Quangos and Committees from which to rule the empire? Of course not. Not a whisper.


Anonymous said...

The several councillors are quite right to raise their concerns about the wisdom of renting office space in Eastgate, particularly when in 2010 the taxpayer paid an exorbitant amount of money to redesign the office space in Ty Elwyn.

Anna Mosity said...

Have you invited Carl Sergeant to attend a full council meeting with you at county Hall?

Obviously he wouldn't come but perhaps a WAG official would be sent and could experience the lock-in, take their own notes and then compare them to the official version 2 weeks later.

Maybe the Local Government Minister would then be persuaded to actually do something about the lack of democracy at CCC.