Wednesday, 6 February 2013

February council meeting

I managed to spare a couple of hours this morning to go to County Hall for the first of this month's meetings of full council. The next one is the budget meeting on the 26th February. The side fire door was, I'm pleased to say, open and my access to the public gallery was almost clear apart from a man noting down my name by the gallery door. He announced that no one was allowed to film or make recordings of the meeting or, he said with a smile, throw tomatoes. I offered to leave the tins by the door but he said it was ok, he was sure they were for cooking use. (joke)

I don't suppose anyone will be brought to book for locking the public in, putting their lives at risk and the notorious undertakings etc for the past eighteen months but what do we expect?

I then missed the first few minutes due to a duff set of headphones. Around ten Members were absent and the Chamber was later informed by Cllr Pam Palmer that Meryl had been struck down with norovirus. Things got underway with a presentation from the brand new Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys Police, Christopher Salmon (Con). He was there, essentially to ask for a 3.9% rise in the precept, a lower rise than in previous years, he pointed out. Prior to the money plea was a drearily predictable 'Priorities' speech, and as he launched into it with number one, 'preventing crime' everyone seemed to zone out until he'd reached the end of point five, last and hopefully not least, 'police accountability'. So zoned out were they all that the Chair and the Chief Executive began passing notes to each other. The Assistant Chief Executive was doodling on his papers for the duration.

Several questions were then posed including concerns that the relationship between the PCC and the Chief Constable was 'too cosy' (I'm sure the councillor meant cosiness in the professional sense). Not so, said the PCC in dulcet Tory tones, it was full of 'healthy tension'. This concern may have arisen due to the fact that the new PCC office is based in Police HQ in Carmarthen. Anyway he went on to say that the nominations were due in tomorrow and he was looking forward to appointing a new Chief Constable, he said he was looking forward to working with him. Not a her then.

Someone then asked about the police helicopter, the future of which has been in doubt for some time. Although it's services include the taxpayer funded protection of Charles Windsor and entourage when visiting Llandovery, one of many country retreats, it is also a vital part of the police service in this very rural area and is used on occasion as an air ambulance when the real one is unavailable. Our PCC was non-committal, couldn't promise anything but was 'optimistic'. Mmm.

A riveting 'thank you speech' from the Leader, Kevin Madge followed, and a few more questions were asked including Mr Salmon's plans for 'public engagement' ( he'd run surgeries 'By Appointment', he said) and the use of Welsh? He was learning, he said. The closure of the custody suite and court in Carmarthen cropped up (this means there is now a long trek to Llanelli, as I am aware), but Mr Salmon was in favour of centralisation to cut costs so nothing happening here.
Cllr Tremlett (Ind) matched the PCC's dulcet Tory tones as she raised her concerns about substance misuse. Very valid of course but Mr Salmon was a bit pessimistic about that too and informed the Chamber that the easy availability of meow-meow on the interweb made policing difficult.

Another difficult point arose when Cllr Jenkins (Plaid) asked what was being done about the Ammanford police station PFI fiasco. This large town is now served by a police van in the car park as the police station has been mothballed, Private eye picked up the tale here. Could the lease be re-negotiated? Could it be sub-let to someone? 'Oh gosh...nightmare' and a bit of a mess, said Mr Salmon. They were legally bound by the lease and it was unlikely to be any demand for another occupier. I suppose it will linger like an enormously expensive white elephant for years to come.

Mr Salmon's moment was over and he left to a round of polite applause. The Plaid Leader, Cllr Hughes Griffiths then raised the point that the 'Approval of Minutes' from the last meeting was missing from the Agenda, apparently it was due to 'staffing problems' and the double-postponement of the last meeting until the 23rd January.

The defection of Cllr Theressa Bowen from the Labour group to the Independent Party caused a reshuffle of committee seats to maintain political balance, essentially, Plaid have gained one, Labour have lost one and the Indies gained four. This was approved.

Next up was a report advising the roles and protocol relating to county councillors who attend their local community council meetings as observers. If an exempt report comes up, the advice is that they can remain in the meeting but must keep the information confidential. None of this really applies to my locality as we haven't seen the county councillor since the May election.
Cllr Hazel Evans (Plaid) asked whether the same applied to county council meetings if a Member attended as an observer and there was an exempt report. The acting Head of Legal said it was a 'bit different' but any requests to see exempt reports would be treated on a 'need to know basis', it all sounded a bit MI5.

It now became apparent that the 'Declaration of Interests' sheet, passed around during the meeting with the register, had gone missing.

The Director of Housing announced in today's Llanelli Star that the council would be suspending the Right to Buy council houses for a year to try and free up some much needed homes, he also revealed that Carmarthenshire is the second worst county in Wales when it comes to provision of affordable homes. Not helped, I would imagine, by approving developments such as 450 homes in Stradey with no affordable homes at all. Back in September 2009, the then Leader, Meryl Gravell said affordable housing had been a priority for many years, not a top priority it would seem though.
There was the small matter of a decision of course which was actually taken today. The suspension was approved as there are currently 7000 households on the waiting list. The Assisted Mortgage Scheme to aid first time buyers was encountering legal difficulties and the criteria meant it couldn't be restricted to Carmarthenshire residents. With the changes to the council tax benefit system as well as an increase in council rents to look forward to in the budget, things are looking a bit bleak.

As the conversation turned to flooding I had to go. As I was leaving I could hear Cllr Bill Thomas saying (he was shouting actually) that it wasn't the officers who made decisions at all - it was the councillors! Poor misguided soul.

Although I had left, I must assume there was no urgent business as this item has now been removed from the agenda since the last meeting when two intrepid Plaid Councillors tried to have the Breckman report brought up for discussion. Just in case the £20,000 referred to in my last post came up this time, I imagine it was decided to do away with this inconvenient agenda item altogether. It still features in Executive Board meetings though, but of course none of them are going to bring up a controversial issue....

At last. Thanks to a concerned public and the Fire Officer


Anonymous said...

What happened to the minutes of the previous full council meeting?

caebrwyn said...

The minutes to that meeting are now online here;

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to go to the meeting and to put it on the site its the only way thye public will fine out the news because there is nothing in the newspaper so once again thanks