Saturday 21 June 2014

Ten years of damage - the Carmarthenshire 'review'.

I'm all for independence when it comes to reviews, especially those as serious and important as the governance review taking place in Carmarthenshire Council in the next few weeks.

As you know, it follows the publication of the Wales Audit Office reports and will, we are told, address the democratic deficit and lack of openness within this local authority.

Whether this review, which is scheduled to last for around four short weeks will undo the damage created over the past ten years, remains to be seen.

When the review was discussed at the emergency meeting over the unlawful payments the opposition proposed it should be led by the council's own Audit Committee an idea rejected by Cllr Madge in favour of a panel led by the WLGA. Whether the Audit Committee which, if nothing else, knows where some of the bodies are buried would have been more effective, we'll never know.

On the other hand, one member of the audit committee thought that the unlawful presence of a very senior officer at a meeting in which he was benefitting financially was nothing more than a 'schoolboy error'. Hopefully the 'panel' will see things differently, part of its 'remit' is to review the matter of declarations of interest.

So far we only know the identity of the lead man, Byron Davies, who is of course, a former chief executive...

To try and determine exactly how transparent the review itself will be I asked the WLGA what form it would take. I was told that it would be 'fluid' and the panel would take a 'mixed approach', there would be 'focus groups' and 'workshops'. Hmm.

I was told though that councillors would be able to 'let off steam' in private interviews, but as for any public involvement in the process, the WLGA were still mulling over that one...

The problem within the council, specifically the ruling junta led by a couple of unelected officials, is that there is no recognition whatsoever that there's anything wrong, and there never has been. After every criticism has come denial and smear. The WAO findings were met with instant defensiveness.

The small concessions following the reports, such as the review itself, have been reluctant, ill-humoured and lacking any sort of genuine humility on the part of those responsible. Before you seek treatment, you have to admit you have a problem, and in this case there's a running sore...which will need a lot more than a sticking plaster.

They, (and they know who they are) believe that this 'nonsense' has been caused by a handful of troublesome backbench councillors (and 'that's where they'll stay'), outspoken MPs, interfering busybodies such as the WAO and the Ombudsman, and of course those meddling, pesky bloggers.

For several years power has gradually, and quietly been allowed to pass from those people you voted for to those you haven't. Your voice has been systematically silenced to the staggering extent where robust criticism of council decisions could be (and have been) met with a publicly funded lawsuit.
No one is ever accountable.

The relationship between County Hall and the local independent press is another case in point, how many of you can remember when the Carmarthen Journal was the source of objective criticism and a platform for open debate?

Attempts to financially ruin the South Wales Guardian were only thwarted by the paper itself, by exposing the diabolical actions of County Hall, and the public doesn't like bullies.

However this review is conducted, the message needs to be sent that this should be a turning point and a culture changing exercise. The devil will be, to a great extent, in the detail and specific actions need to be taken to reverse rules introduced to stifle debate.

One example is the way Motions on Notice are dealt with and a simple proposal put forward (and rejected) by the Plaid opposition last year was that debates on matters of public interest should be taken by full council, regardless whether it was an 'executive function'. Any decision whether or not to bat a controversial topic away from open debate should itself be determined by full council, not by the chief executive.

The only reason why the WAO reports were publicly debated was because for once, they wouldn't have got away with it. Public disgust was overwhelming. Even then the ruling junta ensured they were represented in the Chamber by a QC.

Aside from the devilish detail, those currently in charge need to be open to change and constructive suggestions. The past record of the regime is itself clear evidence that in certain quarters, this will definitely not be the case.

I, and others, will be putting forward constructive, practical and reasonable suggestions to the panel for improvement, as I doubt that murmurings of revolution will be acceptable to former chief executives and the like.

The gentleman I spoke to at the WLGA seemed to doubt the level of interest the public had in all this. Let's prove him wrong. I'm sure many of you are concerned with the way this council is currently run; this is not a party political issue, it's an urgent matter of restoring basic democratic rights for both the public and the representatives they've voted for.

I trust the WLGA will be providing contact details for the public to make their views and suggestions known. If not, then I will provide them on this blog and will make very sure those views and suggestions are seen and heard.

It's definitely worth a try.


caebrwyn said...

The BBC reports that Welsh Labour, who met today, have decided there should be a three month consultation on a cut from 22 councils to 12.

That would leave Carmarthenshire unmerged and untouched.

All the more reason to make sure, for future generations, that this review is a success.

Redhead said...

Shoot the arrow then draw the bulls-eye around it. The usual way of dealing with awkward "consultations" or "independent" reports. Only see what you want to see, only speak to those who speak as you wish to find.

Anonymous said...

Is there an email contact for the review team. Will they accept emails or contact from members for members of the public ?

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 19:12

I suggested to the WLGA that a direct contact email address for members of the public would be a good idea. Whether this will appear in the 'announcement' I don't know. If not I'll chase the matter up.

The main email address for the WLGA is and this review is under the Directorate of 'Improvement and Governance'.

If you wish to contact your Councillor to put forward your views, their email addresses are here. Bear in mind however that the contents of all emails to and from councillors' email addresses are monitored by County make sure you ask for an acknowledgement and a follow up