Wednesday 8 October 2014

October meeting - and an unbelievable vote over 'councillors questions'

Update 15th October; Plaid group leader, Cllr Emlyn Dole has written to the local papers pointing out the ridiculous vote as detailed below. He makes it clear he will be calling for another vote at next month's meeting and suggests readers watch the webcast to see how their own representative votes...
South Wales Guardian letters.


The October gathering of Carmarthenshire Council was a relatively brief affair but plumbed new depths over the issue of 'councillors questions'. You may remember at September's meeting that no supplementary questions were allowed - the constitution was interpreted as being 'silent' on the issue, therefore an arbitrary ban was applied, on the advice of the chief executive and head of legal, of course.

With several question on this month's agenda the leader of the Plaid group, Cllr Emlyn Dole first of all suggested that the use of the plural in 'questions' in the constitution inferred a common sense interpretation that supplementary questions were indeed permissible and, as in any other normal democratic arena, were to be expected.

Mark James and Linda Rees Jones disagreed. 

Cllr Dole then went on to propose that the relevant Standing Order was suspended, which would then allow supplementaries. This was put to the vote.

Unbelievably, thirty councillors voted against further democracy and banned themselves from asking follow-up questions; with only twenty seven in favour and one abstention (sixteen councillors were absent from the meeting) the vote was lost. It should be remembered at the next election that these councillors voted against representing your interests.

The vote was not recorded but it appeared to be the usual suspects from the Labour and independent benches who voted in such an extraordinary way, we don't know whether they were being remotely controlled by the chief executive or they actually thought this was a good idea. The mind boggles.

We all know very well that certain unelected officials like to exert an unhealthy power and control over what is said by councillors in the Chamber. Today was a perfect example. Hopefully that power will soon be removed...

Presumably the issue of supplementary questions will be brought up as a matter of urgency at the 'Workshop' arranged by the WLGA governance review panel meeting in the afternoon. Hopefully it will fit into 'theme testing' and discussion on 'Key Issues' which is forming the final, er, 'independent' report. 

In the normal world independent reports are only passed by those involved to check the facts...perhaps the WLGA are new to this procedure....See 'Next week's agenda and the missing WLGA report' 

Cllr Dole, in reference to his own question referring to remarks made by the Police Commissioner about 'murky backroom deals' asked if he could add a preamble to put the question in context. No he couldn't said Mr James, he could only ask the question.

The Chair managed to read out a prepared answer in that the comments had been made in a party political debate but that the Police Commissioner Panel had been informed and would be 'dealing' with it at their next meeting. It wasn't made clear what they would actually do other than ensure that the PCC performs his 'Statutory duties'.

You may also remember from the last meeting that there was a furore from the Plaid benches over an anonymous comment in Exec Board minutes that the Welsh language should not impede inward investment, implying that it would. Cllr Cefn Campell (Plaid) asked for some evidence to be presented to substantiate this remark. 
Kevin Madge responded that the Member in question (who has remained anonymous) was expressing an opinion and he would always defend their right to do so. That was that.

Of interest to Caebrwyn was the final question from Cllr Elwyn Williams (Plaid); 
'In view of the Leader’s previous admission that over £28,000 was spent on legal advice to try to justify the “unlawful” expenditure on the Chief Executive’s tax avoidance scheme and his libel action indemnity, does the Leader think that this was taxpayers' money well spent – and if so, why?'

Kevin Madge was brief and said that at the time they needed independent legal advice and he believed it to be reasonable and necessary. No supplementary question allowed of course.

Quite something for a Labour leader to consider what amounts to a considerably above average annual salary for a Carmarthenshire worker to be paid over to defend (which it failed to do) a tax avoidance scheme and a means to personally sue a member of the public on behalf of the highest paid employee of the council. 

Also interesting that he refers to the necessity for 'independent' legal advice, particularly after having ignored the WAO's direction that independent legal advice be sought before counter suing me. All that was 'necessary' then, in January 2012 was a misleading report from Linda Rees Jones, approval of the report by Mark James before the meeting, and his presence at the meeting to ensure no one decided differently. He now reaps his financial reward.

A brief discussion on the Scarlets came up and Cllr Caiach asked whether any more money would be spent on the club given the present financial climate. Apparently none was envisaged and the sponsorship deal was coming to an end, it would be up to council whether or not to renew it. To my knowledge, the amount of money entailed in the sponsorship deal has never been made public. 

The chief executive then took the opportunity to announce that a letter had been received in response to a complaint (looking at Cllr Caiach) which had been made to the EU Commission in that the millions of pounds of public money invested in the club, (a private company) may have been in breach of state aid rules (see State Aid and the Stadium). The letter stated that the EU Commission did not envisage pursuing the matter. He looked particularly smug, even more than normal.

Cllr Caiach was not allowed to respond.

I am still waiting for the outcome of my complaint I made to the Wales Audit Office over the council/Scarlets car park deal, see; The Council, the Scarlets and the 'Allowable expenses' - a Revelation

The subject of the very poor air quality in Rhosmaen Street, Llandeilo came up and the ongoing call for a by-pass. The 'call' has been 'ongoing' for about forty years. Anyway, Kevin Madge assured council that pressure on the Welsh Government was continuing and for some reason mentioned his delight that businessman Sir Terry Matthews (of Celtic Manor Hotel fame) was now Chair the Swansea Bay Regional partnership thing. Maybe he's going to ask Mr Matthews to build the bypass...

Cllr Sharon Davies (Lab) brought up the issue that grant funding to organisations which dealt with drug abuse should only be made if the people delivering the service were suitable qualified. There seemed to be slightly more to this statement than met the eye and Cllr Peter Cooper (Lab) also seemed to think so, 

Although no organisation was named Cllr Cooper wondered whether the organisation she was thinking of, and I would imagine he was thinking of Chooselife Llanelli, a Christian based drop-in centre, required qualifications as it was a drop-in rather than treatment centre. Chooselife currently has over £100k per year in grants.
Cllr Davies denied being specific....

The full meeting will be available on archive tomorrow.

The November meeting looks like it could be an interesting affair, not only should the WLGA final report be on the agenda (See also the comments provided to the panel from Sir David Lewis, lay member of the audit committee) but, according to Kevin Madge, a decision could be taken at next month's meeting as to how many hundreds of thousands of pounds are going to be required to ensure that the chief executive finally er, departs. He didn't put it quite like that of course.


Anonymous said...

I keep thinking that I have been in a coma for a few years and have returned to the land of the living to discover that the Labour Party have morphed into the spineless, non socialist outfit we have today in Carms.

At what point did they lose there collective sense of fair play and concern for the down trodden. At what point did they go into coalition with pretended Tories (indies).

I am a Labour voter - or was until this shower of shit turned me against them. They are disgusting and if they can't even vote for supplementary questions at question time there really is something wrong.

Why aren't Plaid jumping up and down about this - mr Dole should be chained to the front door of County Hall for god sake.

Someone somewhere get a grip of this and let's return to a proper democracy where councillors voices are heard.

Anonymous said...

I believe Cllr Higgins broke the whip!

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 15:14
I agree, the Carmarthenshire Labour group are doing their party no favours at all given there's a general election next year.
It was shameful and embarrassing.

@Anon 15:47
I'll take your word for it, it's hard to tell from the webcast and a shame that a recorded vote was not called for.
When the council installed new technology in the chamber a couple of years ago (mics,etc) I understand that an e-voting facility was also installed for future use.
If that was used, every vote would recorded.

Redhead said...

Write to every councillor asking them to confirm how they voted and why.

madaxeman said...

My own thoughts:

caebrwyn said...

Thanks Madaxeman, great post.

Re Scarlets and EU State Aid: I understand that the letter referred to by Mark James is not quite the full story. Further complaints with additional documentation were sent to the Commission shortly after the initial complaint, those issues have yet to be determined.

Anonymous said...

One should in fairness give credit to Mark James and Linda Jones.They work damnably hard putting everything in place so that the little people can't find it.Fair play!!!!

Anonymous said...

If ever there was any more proof needed that certain councillors are more than happy to be controlled - this was it. It suits them as it ensures they don't have to think nor speak - just collect their allowances for doing nothing - maybe turn up at a council meeting or two. About time a protest took place. Disgraceful. These councillors who voted against democracy should be made to answer why they fear democracy.

Anonymous said...

A WLGA recommendation perhaps!

Transformation Innovation and Change Team (TIC) Opportunities

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 00:17
Sadly not a WLGA recommendation to change the culture at CCC! The TIC is an internal talking shop to identify 'efficiency' savings, with the occasional use of consultants and now providing jobs for the boys; it appears to be taking on a life of it's own.

Redhead said...

I commend this report on what scrutiny SHOULD be to ALL councillors: