Wednesday 9 October 2013

Another meeting, another travesty - updated - AM calls for Welsh Government intervention

Further to yesterday's meeting and following on from my post below (and numerous other posts concerning the democratic deficit in Carmarthenshire), Rhodri Glyn Thomas, the Plaid Cymru Assembly Member has issued a statement asking the Welsh Minister to put the council in 'special measures'. I couldn't agree more:

Press Release 10th October 2013

Call for Welsh Government intervention in Council proceedings

Council should be placed in ‘special measures’, says AM

The Welsh Government Minister for Local Government has been asked to intervene in the way in which Carmarthenshire County Council undertakes its proceedings.

Noting what he considers to be a ‘democratic deficit’ in County Hall, Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas has called on the Welsh Government to examine the culture in Carmarthenshire Council and how  democratically elected councillors are prohibited from raising matters in meetings of the full council.

In this month’s meeting of the full council Plaid Cymru County Councillor for Gorslas ward, Darren Price, proposed to suspend the council’s standing orders to raise a matter.  Councillors were invited to vote but Councillor Price was not allowed to ‘make the case’ for his request.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas believes Councillors were not provided accurate information by the authority’s officers and proper processes were not followed as Councillors were told to vote without knowing what they were voting on.

Yesterday's episode in full council follows a series of instances where opposition councillors have been prohibited from raising matters in the Council.  Previous attempts to raise matters through the council’s  ‘any other business’ equivalent resulted in that agenda item being removed from all future meetings.

Leader of the Plaid Cymru Councillor Group on Carmarthenshire County Council, Peter Hughes Griffiths said it is almost impossible for opposition councillors to have any input into decision making.  He also expressed his disappointment that the Leader of the authority, Labour’s Kevin Madge, rejected his request for a statement regarding the on-going legal row with the Wales Audit Office and its claims of “unlawful” payments made on behalf of the Chief Executive, Mark James.

In his letter to the Local Government Minister, AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas has exposed that the Chief Executive has recently proposed changing the format for full council meetings which will remove entirely any opportunity for councillors to scrutinise Executive Board decisions in full council meetings.  The Plaid Cymru AM requested the Minister considered placing Carmarthenshire Council into ‘special measures’ until faith in the democratic process had been restored.

Assembly Member for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:

“In the almost fifteen years I have represented Carmarthenshire in the National Assembly I have never known public confidence in the County Council to be so low.

“There appears to be a culture in which decisions are made behind closed doors; with very little opportunity for opposition councillors to challenge or discuss decisions which have been made.  The recent revelation surrounding the Chief Executive’s new pension arrangement is a case in point.

“The Council’s constitution has been manipulated over a number of years to concentrate power in the hands of a select group of officers and executive board members.  Even when councillors follow the letter of that constitution to raise matters of concern, they immediately find themselves hitting an ‘officer road block’.  

“When Councillor Darren Price requested the suspension of standing orders at this week’s full council meeting, I am at a loss to explain why officers advised councillors to vote on the request without knowing what issue they were voting on.

“There is without doubt a democrat deficit in Carmarthenshire.  It’s my view that senior officers are working on behalf of the Labour and Independent coalition instead of the council as a whole.  The way in which some senior officers provide advice to councillors can only be likened to an officer operating a ‘veto’ on council business.  As an elected representative it is my duty to raise these matters with government Ministers.

“I have called on the Welsh government to intervene in the way the County Council conducts its affairs.  The people of Carmarthenshire deserve better than the way in which the current administration operates.”

Leader of the Plaid Cymru Councillor Group Peter Hughes Griffiths added:

“The Council is embroiled in a legal battle with the Wales Audit Office over two unlawful payments of around £40,000 involving the Chief Executive.

“But despite my request, it is a deep disappointment that the Labour Leader of the Council has refused to make a statement to the council and explain to us, as elected representatives of Carmarthenshire communities, exactly what the auditor has said and how this impacts on the council."


Another update; Mrs Angry, author of @BrokenBarnet has written on the latest developments here; Daft Arrest: Welsh Assembly member calls for council to be put in special measures ...

..and the South Wales Guardian; Public faith in Carmarthenshire council at an all-time low – Rhodri

(Meeting now on archive, see update below)

You would think, in the real world, that something of the seriousness of recent grave allegations of unlawful payments would be discussed by your elected representatives in the council chamber. It wasn't.

As if to pre-empt any possible mention of the libel indemnity or the pension payments, for the first time, the script which warns those present that the meeting was being live streamed included a statement, read by the Chief Executive, that the council had the right to stop the filming at any time.

Firstly, the Plaid Group's demand for a statement from Council leader Kevin Madge was rejected in an email to the Plaid Leader yesterday. It's not surprising that Cllr Madge is reluctant to say anything as he was on the Executive Board when the two payments in question were rubber stamped. However I suspect he has little say as to what is said in public over all this. None at all probably.

The South Wales Guardian reports on the rejection and provides us with the text of the email, I would put my pocket money on it that it was not written by Cllr Madge. It also gives the impression that the WAO have been told to go away and come up with a different result. Typical council spin and not the reality of the position;

"You will appreciate that this is fundamentally an issue of interpretation of the two seemingly conflicting legal opinions," he added. "I understand that the Wales Audit Office have been looking further into their own advice and there is to be a meeting next week between the council and the WAO to try to understand and resolve the differing legal points of view.
"In this context I do not think it would be advisable for me to make a statement until I have received a report of this forthcoming meeting.
I also do not think that this matter would qualify as ‘urgent’ business since there is no action or decision to be taken at this time and there has been no recent development since it was considered by the Audit Committee.
"Once we have had the scheduled meeting with the Wales Audit Office we will know more as to how the matters can be resolved and I will ensure that members are kept informed."

So there was no statement at the meeting. And therefore no discussion.

The meeting progressed and the Plaid Motion for a vote of no confidence in Labour Health Minister Mark Drakeford over the loss of the A & E Department in Llanelli was duly and predictably watered down by an amendment from the Labour group.

The amendment removed the 'no confidence' part of the motion. The crucial part.

So eventually, despite numerous impassioned speeches, what was meant as a strong message to the Welsh Government on behalf of the people of Llanelli ended up more of a bland comment. The main worry of those who spoke against the motion, including the Executive Board Member for health, Cllr Jane Tremlett (Ind) was that a no confidence vote would damage the 'good name' of this council (yes really).

Towards the end of the meeting Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) mentioned a recommendation that the council should improve the level and scope of scrutiny that currently exists. He cited an example where he had asked for a report from officers detailing the amount of money spent on external consultants - that was a year and a half ago and he was still waiting...

The final attempt to bring (what I understand to be) the subject of the unlawful payments up for discussion was right at the end of the meeting. Cllr Darren Price requested that the Standing Orders be suspended for him to bring forward an urgent Motion.

Panic ensued, voices were raised and the acting Head of Law, Linda Rees Jones launched into the favourite excuse that things had to be on the agenda, the poor public had a right to know what was being discussed blah blah (they clearly didn't have that right when the two unlawful payments were decided).

A vote had to be then taken whether or not to suspend standing orders but Cllr Price, bizarrely, was not allowed to say what the item was about, or put his case forward.

This matter was not going to be mentioned whatsoever.

With the predictable support of the Labour/Ind coalition going to the ruling officers, the vote was lost.

The Chief Executive himself immediately announced the lost vote and closed the meeting. Closing the meeting is something the Chair is supposed to do, which he did, after Mr James.

To be fair, Cllr Price tried very hard in the face of extreme hostility from the podium. Cllr Caiach's efforts to support Cllr Price were similarly, and unceremoniously, shot down in flames.

Update 10th October; The meeting is now archived and can be found here. Scroll down and click on the time 02:39:48 to see Cllr Price's attempt to get Standing Orders suspended to bring forward a motion on the 'unlawful' payments.

(For background, please see recent posts)

Storm clouds gathering on Jail Hill


Anonymous said...

What an embarrassing lot we've got running this show. Kevin Madge and his Independent exec board members don't seem to want to publicly defend any decisions they make. Incredible.

Anonymous said...

A travesty indeed.How can councillors be so controlled by a chief executive.Are they really that stupid? I would love to know what they fear.Surely ward members of councillors who are supporting the chief executive are asking questions.
What on earth is the Welsh government doing!

Anonymous said...

Referring to the LA the "Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas has called on the Welsh Government to examine the culture in Carmarthenshire ..." It is a culture of bullying behaviour and fear which employees endure on a regular basis from those in authority.

Anonymous said...

Well done Rhodri Glyn Thomas!! Let's hope the WG have a proper look at how Officers and Exec Members are constantly refusing to be held to account.

Anonymous said...

This is not democracy, this is dictatorship, and the blame lies on the shoulders of our elected Councillors, for allowing this to continue.

Bernard said...

Webcasting CCC is the best thing we have had since sliced bread.
Now the public can really see the puppets and the strings.

caebrwyn said...

Thank you for your additional comment Bernard, but I am not able to publish the name of that particular fairytale character for legal reasons.