Thursday 3 April 2014

Council; 'We have acted to minimise costs...'

The print version of the South Wales Guardian has given the '£70,000 audit costs bill' front page treatment. The print version of the Carmarthen Journal appears to have omitted it altogether. It does give the Returning Officer row a mention though, tucked away on page seven.

The SW Guardian has also published a comment from an unnamed 'council spokesman'. Remarkably, but unsurprisingly, the council, (for they speak as one) do not feel responsible for the fees as they consider that they were in the right all along. In fact to suggest otherwise is 'untrue'.

The fact that they have withdrawn the pension arrangement and suspended the libel amendment clause in the constitution is not because anyone had done anything wrong, oh goodness me no.

The best bit is at the end, "We have acted to minimise unnecessary costs throughout", Really? I suspect that with the £55,000 in unlawful payments, all the legal advice, officer reports, meetings, the audit fees (even if the final figure is less than £70,000), bringing Mr Kerr QC to Carmarthen for the day, the time and expense involved in using the press office as an attack dog, etc etc the final cost will be well over £100,000.

What the council officials seem to forget is, to the majority of people, that's the price of a modest family home. A sum of money most of us spend a lifetime paying for. To have used this to defend a very highly paid senior officer is completely unjustified. (see previous post)

With regards to the press office, the council's Media and Press Protocol was the subject of discussion at a recent meeting of the Policy and Resources committee. (I have explained the actual reason for its appearance here).

The minutes haven't been published yet but I understand that Executive Board Member and official guardian of Carmarthenshire's free and independent press, Cllr Pam Palmer, was present as an observer and offered her tuppence worth. Apparently she was concerned about 'fairness and balance'. You have to remember that anything published in the local papers other than an official council press releases is considered to be subversive and worthy of a variety of threats.

Cllr Palmer

One interesting line in the protocol concerns social media  With the growth of social media, many members of the public, organisations and politicians are now using sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs. The Press Office monitors social media sites daily, and will occasionally engage by posting a response.comment on blogs". I'm sure extra care is taken these days and lessons have been learned since the contribution to the Madaxeman blog; Mr James admitted during the trial of course, that in hindsight, this was a contribution he probably shouldn't have made....

However, despite the looming presence of Cllr Palmer, I understand that the committee have decided to review the protocol as, according to one of our assistant Chief Executives in the understatement of the year, there are 'weaknesses in the system'. 


Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure that the Council understands how its media strategy really gets up peoples' noses. Whether you term it "news", "propaganda" or "spin", it is offensive to be spending so much scarce public money on unnecessary media output at a time when the priority should be front-line services.

We no longer have to rely on a pliant (or indeed craven) local newspaper to comment on what goes on in County Hall. The South Wales Guardian and blogs such as this can provide alternative, critical insights. So, when we see stories which patently spin, finesse or whitewash, it is like a red rag to a bull, and provokes, rather than pacifies.

The media output should be politically neutral. But the symbiotic relationship between senior officers and the Executive Board means that it is impossible to divorce the government from the administration. The news team is in effect a political tool, and its output is seen in that light. This is anti-democratic.

And there's a word which doesn't appear in the lexicon of the News Room - "Sorry". Perhaps its use is grounds for dismissal (after, of course, an opportunity to "step aside" on full pay for a few months beforehand).

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to love CCC more and more, after several years of not having a TV. I fealt i was starting to miss the likes of Lee Evans, Jack Dee, Michael Mcintyre.

But thanks to CCC I now have a weekly comedy sketch show live via webcast (and just like having a Christmas Special, every now and again i get to have extrondinary meeting too).

la viva de revolution... the time has come.

Anonymous said...

Pickles isn't happy about councils using publicity politically and has written sternly to remind them of this:

Looks like CCC could be a "model" for what is being done wrong.

Anonymous said...

Oh here we go again, "unnamed council spokesman." Why would someone remain anonymous if they believed the crap they spew out to the public?

Sentinel said...

Having just taken redundancy from Carmarthenshire County Council, I'd just like to comment on the waste of money I've seen over the years.

Are people aware that where departmental heads are allocated budgets, they are encouraged to spend everything before the end of the financial year?

Whereas you and I would look to save money, Council managers are told that if they don't spend everything before the end of the financial year, the following year their budget will be reduced by the amount they've under spent. As a consequence, in February and march every year, managers can be seen rushing around like headless chickens looking for ways to spend the money allocated to them.

Year on year I've seen money wasted on kit and services that was not really needed.

Where staff are issued with clothing and other equipment, if they say they need replacements, nobody checks to see the reportedly worn out items are unserviceable.

It's not just on the Chief Exec's Department where money is wasted, it's endemic throughout the local authority.

Senior managers aren't managing at all and there is definitely no leadership.

Are these the words of a bitter man? No; I am relieved to have left - I should have done it years ago so I could have maintained my sanity.

The problem is this doesn't just occur in Carmarthenshire, it happens throughout Wales. No wonder our council tax bills have gone up.