Thursday 11 July 2013

The July meeting

A few brief comments on yesterday's meeting, in no particular order. There's a link to the archived meeting at the end of this post;

The council's PR Department, with it's £1m budget and substantial 'team', failed to advertise that the meeting was being webcast; no mention on the council's homepage (the last two meetings were, and there were even direct links), and not even a mention on the council's Twitter feed. Very disappointing. I can only assume that after last month, County Hall was hoping no one would watch it. Cutting the viewer numbers will give them the excuse, at the end of the pilot, to close the lid.

The usual aim is to avoid anything controversial being aired in front of the public, or the press, or bloggers .....and now in front of the cameras. Before the pilot started, the leader, Cllr Madge said he was looking forward to the webcasting which would show 'warts and all'. I think, after last month, they may be having second thoughts about the warts. The Plaid Motion against wooden poles to carry electric from various wind farms and take it underground instead was always going to have unanimous support, and be 'allowed' on the agenda. When the freedom of the local press was at stake last year, that particular Motion was not allowed on the agenda.

The Ombudsman has asked local authorities to deal with low-level frivolous and petty complaints between Members themselves rather than going to him, as he clearly has enough to do. You will notice, on the webcast, that there was something of a spat between Cllr Caiach and the Chief Executive. The Chief Executive, you may remember, made a series of complaints to the Ombudsman last year about Cllr Caiach, all of which were dismissed by the Ombudsman (Western Mail)

Cllr Lenny brought up the issue of Llanelly House. I mentioned this back in December when, as an exempt and urgent item (not on the agenda) the Executive Board decided to lend the trustees an interest free cash flow loan of £250k to be paid back by the end of 2013. The first repayment of £125k is due this month. The house is being refurbished as a tourist attraction but there have been delays, and Finance Wales, who were funding the project were reluctant to extend the terms of the loan. Step into the breach Carms Council. We don't know whether the Council have had the £125k yet as the topic was deemed to be 'not on the agenda' and ignored. A simple yes or no answer to Cllr Lenny would have sufficed though.

A few weeks ago the Executive Board approved plans to sell off 86 small parcels of land, the Leader said they couldn't afford to cut the grass and, with financial gloom fast approaching, needed the money. There were a handful of plots that attracted numerous objections. One was in Gwyddgrug, the home turf of Plaid Cllr Linda Evans. There were several letters to the council  raising objections, not least of all from Cllr Evans herself. Even the Council's very own Children's Play Sufficiency Officer wrote a report, recommending that the land was retained for play. Residents had also asked about using some of the land for allotments.

Despite Cllr Evans' efforts and the efforts of the community, the Executive Board decided to sell the land. Another small plot in Llandyfaelog, an area which, (as pointed out by Cllr Darren Price), happens to be represented by Executive Board Member Cllr Mair Stephens, was allowed to be retained by the community at a peppercorn rent.

Both the Chief Executive and the Director of Social Care referred to the impending financial meltdown, between £12m and £18m instead of the predicted £5m. Life in the county will never be the same again. And those Improvement Reports will lose their glossy sheen. Although we may not notice much difference in the Chamber of County Hall. A report will go to councillors in the Autumn. The public and press will then be able to 'make suggestions' as to where the axe will fall. I hope that includes bloggers. One to watch.

One of the ways the council could of empower the public with enough knowledge to make constructive suggestions would be to publish the council's spending details, which they flatly refuse to do.

The Council's attempted PR coup over the National Survey for Wales results also fell a bit flat. Further to yesterday's post 'The worst council in Wales', it seems that the figures and tables had been quite carefully scrutinised by a couple of councillors who challenged the council spin, so one of the Assistant Chief Executives (we're lucky in Carmarthenshire to have two) was tasked with trying to explain the over inflated claims of success. He didn't really know what to say.

As I have mentioned before, the council seems to be taking the declarations of interests to extremes. Prior to the filming, a form was passed round and the Member quietly left the meeting when he or she had to. Or we presume they did anyway. For some reason the Chair now asks for declarations every five minutes, or so it seems. This appears to be backfiring, giving rebellious councillors the opportunity to speak out. Towards the end of the meeting Cllr Caiach almost poured untreated effluent over the carefully controlled proceedings by mentioning the pollution in the Burry Port inlet, she was quickly silenced.
It became clear that an urgent rethink was on the cards and Linda Rees Jones, the Monitoring Officer hurriedly suggested that councillors approach her before the meeting about declarations. The Chair agreed, and that it was all best kept away from the cameras.

Here's a link to the archive; which you can browse at your leisure. 

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