Tuesday 15 October 2013

Letters to the paper

One unintended consequence of the decision to webcast council meetings, something which probably shouldn't have come as a surprise, is a sense of personal embarrassment that others, aside from the intrepid few who would watch from the public gallery, can now see the farce in all its glory. Carmarthenshire is a beautiful county of course but dear me, what must the rest of the world be thinking (of course I'm sure the rest of the world must be watching) about the way it's run.

The end of the meeting last Wednesday again saw senior officers take control and it was obvious to everyone, apart from themselves it seemed, that this was a deliberate (and arguably incorrect interpretation of the constitution), reaction to silence debate on a serious issue.. Sadly, to hardened Carmarthenshire Council watchers this behaviour was nothing out of the ordinary.

The Chair said several times during the meeting about councillors behaving themselves, by which he meant, in front of the cameras. The 'good name' of the council must be preserved, rowdy banter and, dare I use that word, 'robust' debate witnessed in parliament had no place in the Chamber of Carmarthenshire Council...I beg your pardon? Do these people not realise that it is exactly what people want to see? And as for its 'good name', it's a bit late for that isn't it?

A hardy few councillors who don't live in cloud cuckoo land, most notably, Sian Caiach who's persistence to raise numerous issues in the correct forum, the council chamber, has earned her the barely concealed contempt from senior officers. Cllr Darren Price is heading the same way.

The recent 'unlawful' payments scandal is the most recent example. Without the public seeing a strong challenge with those involved being publicly held to account the impression is one of cover-up and secrecy. How healthier it would have been to have brought this out into the open on Wednesday, instead of course, even the reason why Cllr Price's wanted Standing Orders suspended was silenced.

One thing is certain, these two issues are not going to go away.

Letters to the paper are traditionally a good measure of public opinion on topical issues and show the powers that be the way the wind is blowing. Social media is another of course. There are precious few letters critical of the local authority in the local papers these days, apart from, it goes without saying, in the South Wales Guardian. Maybe the other papers don't receive any...I couldn't say.

These letters do not appear online so, in the interest of informing those in power of the views of the letter writing public, here are three letters from last week's edition;


The revelations in the SW Guardian (Oct 2nd) about the Mark James pension scandal lead us to wonder who in the council and executive board is responsible for presiding over the expenditure of £40,000 in pension contributions and legal costs for Mr James' libel case?

The Wales Audit Office has claimed these two issues are unlawful. If these two actions do prove to be unlawful will those responsible be held to account?

Non-executive board county councillors are quite right to highlight this state of affairs. Currently only executive board members have the final say. Perhaps it is time we reviewed our system of local government?

Wouldn't it be better to have all county councillors able to vote and decide on all issues, as was once the case?

At a time of extreme austerity, when the council is closing schools and community centres and cutting services, we are saddened, disgusted and angry that our hard earned money is possibly being spent illegally to the detriment of the public good.

P & B Gill, Carmarthenshire.


I am stunned at reading the front page of this week's SW Guardian (Oct 2nd) regarding the alleged use of over £20,000 of public money being used to pay for a private libel case.

Mr Mark James, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, is a public servant and should be prepared to accept criticism (and the compliments) for the role he has taken.

Libel actions are taken against people, not organisations. If he feels that Jacqui Thompson's allegations against him warranted a libel claim then that is a matter for him personally - not the local authority.

Most of us as executives  take out 'officers and professional indemnity' on a personal basis to protect us in such matters. The audit office should rule that it is repaid.

P Morgan, Cross Hands.


Three cheers for Cllr Bill Thomas for his remarks concerning the local authority's allegedly unlawful transactions involving Chief Executive Mark James (SWG October 2nd). We all owe him our debt because I and many others are afraid to speak out against the council in case we are taken to court and sued for libel - whatever happened to free speech and democracy?

The public are not fools - we haven't forgotten the council's decision to allow the Betws wind farm to go ahead, the car park charges it brought in, Wilkinson's and so on.

I haven't got any money so it's no good taking me to court. I would rather go to prison or join planning protestor Iori Jones up on the roof in Llandeilo or outside the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

Why oh why don't they listen to public opinion? They are always riding roughshod over peoples wishes. God bless the SW Guardian for standing up for free speech - I think it's time for a few top people to fall on their swords.

J Owen, Pantyffynnon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't get my head round the issue of Mark James's pension arrangements. Why should the Council (or more to the point, the Council Tax payers) agree to get involved in a scheme so dubious that they had to get a legal opinion on it? What public interest is served by doing so? And who paid for that legal advice? I hope it was Mr James, but somehow I doubt it. At a time when the country is rightly infuriated by the legal but morally reprehensible tax-avoidance schemes of multi-national corporations, surely better should be expected of a public body. For the Council to bend over backwards to help the highest paid person in the authority to get even more money, really sticks in the gullet.

This should have Labour members resigning their seats in protest against such an unfair and un-socialist grubby little wheeze.