Thursday 11 December 2014

December council meeting - A test of stamina

Update 12th December: The Trelech by-election result was a significant Plaid Cymru gain over Pam Palmer's Independent party. Plaid now have 29 seats and Labour and the Independents (in coalition) have 21 each. The Hengoed by-election will be held in the new year.
Trelech results:
Jean Lewis (Plaid) 598
Hugh Phillips (Ind) 181
Selwyn Runnett (Libdem) 96


Yesterday's meeting was definitely not for the faint hearted viewer. With the first three hours taken up with assorted tributes including granting the freedom of the county to retired veteran councillor Dai 'Trelech' and a lengthy round of cheers for the departing Director of Technical Services. The onslaught was only interrupted by a death-by-powerpoint presentation from Welsh Water.

The Chair, Cllr Daff Davies was even more bewildered than usual and wheezed and stumbled through the script. Executive Board member Cllr Wyn Evans announced that the Dyfed Pension Fund had won some sort of award and was not, as stated earlier in the year 'in tatters'.

The same pension fund that Cllr Evans and his executive colleagues provided an opt out tax avoidance arrangement for Mr James.

I presume this was a dream agenda for the chief executive who only became squeaky and cross when deliberations over accepting a scrutiny report threatened to overrun into the 'freedom' ceremony. Again he thought it hilarious to say he didn't want to appear 'overbearing or officer-led'. He demanded they move on. The Chair did as he was told.

In fact it was rather disturbing to hear Mr James say that he'd be glad when this was sorted out once and for all when 'we' in the governance working group (following the WLGA report) got round to dealing with this point; ie 'noting' previous reports and minutes, not discussing them.

Mr James ruling the roost in the working group, which met on Tuesday for the first time, doesn't bode well for a 'change of culture'. Not only is he part of the problem but he has viewed the WLGA exercise as a massive joke.
In any event, you'd think he would understand that some councillors are now a little wary of accepting any minutes or reports without question, not wanting to be unwittingly approving illegal decisions again...

The local papers must have become curious as to when he's actually going to go and must have posed the question. Apparently councillors will be discussing his severance in the 'New Year'. According to the papers the post of chief executive could be deleted or there could be a 'bumped severance' which means a post is deleted 'within two or three tiers' of the released employee’s level. Whatever that might mean. Maybe it will be farewell to Linda Rees Jones too...

Back to Welsh Water and they seem to have been instructed to make sure the Cllr Caiach was told there was 'no pollution' in the Burry Estuary and that the planning committee would stop getting jittery about approving applications from large developers in this sensitive area.  Cllr Caiach wasn't convinced and given that Welsh Water are investing £25m in various drainage schemes in the Llanelli area over the next few years, neither were they.

Mr James was very keen for all the members to visit the sewage plant in Bynea and mentioned it several times. He seemed particularly interested in the treatment of 'solids' and thought that the Chamber might be as well. Perhaps we've solved the mystery of Mr James new job...I'm sure they'll provide him with a gold-plated shovel.

The main event, after a fortified lunch in honour of Dai Trelech, was not, as you might expect, a corporate nap, but the adoption of the Local Development Plan which, after it's lengthy and tortuous journey through consultations, inspections for soundness, focussed changes, delivery agreements etc etc was finally adopted at the meeting.

The details of the discussion (and the whole meeting of course) can be seen on the archived webcast here, but it began with Meryl insisting they adopt the LDP 'or else' the Welsh Government would force it upon them anyway. Which rather set the tone. Essentially, the plan is based on a disputed housing projection for a staggering 15,000 more homes in the county over the next few years. Looks like they'll have to reopen all those village schools after all...

Kevin Madge talked about jobs, as he does, and seemed to be predicting a pan-global financial boom based in Carmarthen. You never know I suppose. Helpfully he suggested that people "need to move into jobs where they can find work". A very sensible idea.

It was all a bit depressing and it is clear that nothing has changed. It would have been far more informative to have seen the budget seminar earlier in the week, or even the meeting of the Governance review committee. I have asked Linda Rees Jones when the minutes of the latter will be published, I presume, as an officially constituted group, minutes will have been taken...

The truth is of course that with webcasting meetings such as those, or even opening them up to the public, the subsequent spin is much harder to manipulate.

The executive board meets on Monday where, amongst other things, they will be paving the way for a Hilton hotel for Machynys golf club; taking £150,000 out of the reserves to build a public car park to assist a developer in Laugharne and then going behind closed doors to buy a plot of land in Carmarthen.
As for a report on the libel costs, like Mr James' pay-off, it's obviously all to much to stomach just before Christmas.


Anonymous said...

I watched the whole affair on-line and I came away feeling depressed.

The mutual back slapping at the start was cringeworthy with thanks for this and thanks for that.

Clr Dole made by far the best contribution re the council who died recently - Mr Madge was his usual rambling self.

I really think that if governance does not improve in short order in the new year then Plaid must do somethig spectacular. I don't know what but something !!!!

Anonymous said...

Listening to meryl's comments on HTV news last night I was amazed at her grasp of economics.

Not only will it be a benefit to build 15000 houses in the area, it will also not have any impact on Welsh speakers or the Welsh language.

Indeed, it will serve to encourage 'Welsh people to return home' according to our oracle.

The only problem with this incredibly fantastic solution to Carmarthenshire and the Welsh language or lack of it, that seems to escape her was this: How do you expect people to buy these new houses if there are no jobs to fund the mortgages?

Maybe I've missed something but most home owners are also mortgage holders too. Has this escaped our meryl or is she that simple, she fails to understand basic economies and being economical with the truth, yet again?