Thursday 12 February 2015

February meeting - CCTV, hustings, and constitutional mischief

As usual, yesterday's meeting, in its entirety, can be viewed here so I will only refer to a couple of points.

Due to Mr James' last minute alterations to the agenda for the avoidance of awkward questions, the whole thing was over with in two hours. Sadly he didn't have any powerpoint presentations available this time, but I'm sure they're well in-hand for next time...


Amid something of an uproar, the Police Commissioner, Christopher Salmon (Con) has withdrawn the police contribution to fund the monitoring of CCTV. The council, well the Executive Board, has refused make up the shortfall.

Mr Salmon is definitely not the flavour of the month, or year, in the council chamber. The Motion, put forward by Cllr Elwyn Williams was for Mr Salmon to have a rethink over the funding.

The South Wales Guardian published a powerful opinion piece in this week's paper.

Both Plaid and Labour accused Mr Salmon of politicising the police and said his recent 5% reduction in the precept was, basically, an election move, at the expense of police services. It was pointed out that in 2012/13 the old style police authority cost £377k, but with the arrival of the new Commissioner system, that figure had now jumped to £619k.

Mr Salmon defends his decision claiming that monitoring CCTV makes little difference to crime levels and there was no difference when live monitoring stopped in Powys and the area has one of the lowest crime rates.

Despite Plaid saying they'd never supported the idea of a police commissioner in the first place and Labour's Calum Higgins getting in on the act saying Labour would abolish the PCC if it gained power in May, it was all immaterial really as the PCC has no intention of restoring the funding.

Anyway, the upshot of it all is that CCTV will remain, but will no longer be actively monitored, and only time will tell whether this was a poor decision or not. Hopefully not, and hopefully the staff can be redeployed.

It does appear however that police resources were available for Dyfed Powys police officers to visit various corner shops to find out who in our Welsh villages has been reading Charlie Hebdo....

Election talk

With three candidates for the general election in May in the Chamber, some Westminster style debate was inevitable. Not only that, but a fairly hotly contested council by-election in Hengoed will be held next Thursday (19th).

Cllrs Calum Higgins (Lab), Elwyn Williams (Plaid) and Sian Caiach (People First) are all standing in the general election. Cllr Dole's Motion, whilst mentioning the council's budget was in reality an attack on Labour's support of the Tory austerity policy.

Cllr Dole referred to several Labour Members' wards and the high levels of child poverty, he also mentioned, that to be on the safe side, voters in Hengoed by-election should avoid Labour...

Labour candidate Calum Higgins responded and tried to say that Labour didn't exactly agree with the policy, their view was different, a gradual 'balancing of the books' rather than huge short term cuts...

You get the drift. And 84 days still to go.

Cllr Caiach suggested that actually, nobody had any real answers and this wasn't presently an issue on the doorsteps of Hengoed anyway. Perhaps they should concentrate on the nitty gritty of their own budget.

Eventually the Motion was lost, 31 against, 27 for and 4 abstentions.

Pension question

Sian Caiach could not ask her question regarding the unlawful pension arrangement as the Leader, Cllr Madge was not present. She was told by Mr James, via the Chair, that she must wait for his return.
I don't suppose Deputy Leader, Pam Palmer could have answered as she didn't have a copy of the script, prepared for Mr Madge by Mr James.......

Pension scrutiny

There was then a general grumble to the setting up of a local Pension Board to oversee the panel of trustees of the Dyfed Pension Fund. Essentially the purpose of the Board was to hold the trustees to account, advising over matters of governance and compliance. The chief exec chipped in to say it was 'completely unnecessary'. I suppose he has a bit of a personal 'thing' about scrutiny of pension payments...

Anyway, as it was part of new legislation, more bureaucracy or not, the changes had to be accepted.

Constitutional mischief

After some discussion relating to Blue Badge charges and the lack of consultation with local members, it was time for the agenda change.  As I mentioned here, scrutiny and planning committee minutes were now 'for information only', no questions allowed. A move that Mr James was particularly keen on, unsurprisingly.

However, he was very careful to point out, as some members had been critical, that this was a decision of the working group. They had decided, he said, that he should implement this change with 'immediate effect'.at their meeting on the 26th January.

Presumably Mr James was on hand at the meeting to give them plenty of encouragement. a bit like his carefully engineered 'democratic mandate' over the unlawful libel indemnity and pension tax avoidance scam..

He went on to explain that as there was no requirement in the constitution to include these meetings on the agenda then there was no constitutional amendment necessary.

Cllr Caiach said that even if that were the case, it should have still gone to full council for discussion and approval, it had been clumsy and discourteous.

Incidentally, there's no 'requirement' in the constitution specifically preventing supplementary questions from Members either, but according to Mr James, a constitutional amendment is going to be necessary to allow them....

There was nothing in the constitution, you may remember, banning the public from filming meetings either...

Labour Cllr Anthony Jones acknowledged that Councillors could ask questions relating to these meetings, but as they had to be made in writing seven days before the meeting, it was not satisfactory.

Basically, aside from Executive Board minutes, no spontaneous questions relating to other committees are now allowed, any questions will now involve the drafting of letters and vetting by the chief executive.

Motions on notice still require a record seven signatures as well as the proposer. I'm sure all will be relieved when this is relaxed back to the normal two as per the WLGA recommendations.

This particularity unpleasant requirement only lasted three years having been implemented by Mr James due to a number of Motions in 2011 which, amongst other irritants, were, and I quote, "criticising the council".

According to Mr James, who seems to be in complete control over the working group considering the WLGA governance recommendations, they have now covered everything and will be reporting to council soon. His trusty acting sidekick, and legal rubber stamp, Linda Rees Jones is drawing up reports for council and amendments to the constitution as we speak.

As I said the full meeting can be seen on the archive. No one mentioned the Public Interest Report from the Ombudsman, no one mentioned the protest outside County Hall by Unison concerned about the latest outsourcing venture

Incidentally, all council tax and housing benefit correspondence much of which is highly sensitive, has now been outsourced to Dstoutput Ltd based in Dagenham. This contract, which I mentioned back in October, is worth £220,000.

Annual budget meeting

The next webcast meeting of full council will be on Tuedsay 24th February to decide on the budget. Hopefully these two bright sparks pictured below will perk up by then and speak up for all the residents of Caebrwyn's corner of Carmarthenshire. Then again, pigs might fly.

Independent Group Cllrs Tom Theophilus and Ivor Jackson


Anonymous said...

It really is a despot county with regards to those WE pay to represent and look after us. If only we had a media outlet for the county. WE DO? I thought the rat was leaving the sinking ship but alas the other rats have provided stepping stones to safety and rich pickings once more. Do they actually have troughs in front of them? Your photos don't expose this. As for the elections, why bother voting for people who cannot see any further than their next expenses payout?

Anonymous said...

Dear CCC members

I really would like you to look at this link

The Officers you deal with are not necessarily working for the good of your constituents and it is time you all started to stand up against what appears to be their dictatorial rule. Look deeper and realise some of the officers themselves are being coerced into acting against the public interest.

Look at some of the OMBUDSMAN's Reports "Maladministration" is regularly mentioned. In my mind this is tantamount to Misconduct in Public Office. I know you are not encouraged to look at these reports and even members on the relevant scrutiny committees say they know nothing about the reports (I was told personally by a member who sat on my Staff Disciplinary Appeal Panel who was also involved in the Social Services Scrutiny Committee that she knew nothing of the damning Ombudsman Report of September 2009.). Why is so much information being kept from the members? Is the Executive party to the covering up of information that is given to the Chief Executive Officer, by the Ombudsman, to encourage change to the way they handle not only COMPLAINTS but also Whistleblowing and POVA; is the Executive so enamoured of the CE's charm that they automatically agree with his reasoning because HE knows best?

All I can say to you members is stand up and be counted, don't just follow blindly, delve deeper into matters that effect your constituents and the public interest in general. Just because you are told to keep out of looking into something that's suspect, by officers or members of the executive that should not stop you. Your constituents should be your first priority and if officers are failing to follow policies and procedures put in place for the benefit and safety of the public and service users it is a matter worth asking questions about.

We rely on you to keep this Council on the straight and narrow.

I wish you all the best and do the right thing PLEASE!!

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Unknown said...

I take it that with all that "outsourcing" that council officers appear to want to do in the near future, the huge reduction in workload for council officers will be reflected by a suitable reduction in the salary level currently paid to them. After all you can't have it both ways - if you want to reduce the costly workload for the council to save money, it follows quite naturally that there will surely be much less work for the actual officers themselves. I'm sure we could save a great deal of money by substantially reducing officers' pay levels and even by getting rid of some jobs altogether!!! At last - I'm sure the Council is on the right track!!! Phil Edwards.

Anonymous said...

Re.Constitutional mischief
Seems odd that Mr James is so keen to implement this change before the working group (no published agenda, no minutes) has made its report to full council.
Even it if required no constitutional change, it does appear to require that these minutes are no longer described as “reports” in the agenda as they have been up to now. What about all the other WLGA recommendations which could be implemented immediately without need for constitutional change?

As the new constitution will be based on new Welsh Model Constitution, does anyone know if all members have been issued with a copy of this important document as they have been in other authorities?

caebrwyn said...

Anon 13:44

Absolutely. The only reason this change appeared so rapidly was because it was a personal whim of Mr James to have full control over debate.

The fact these have been referred to as 'Reports' until now is immaterial to the chief executive. Urgent Items disappeared a year or so ago.

As for his 'democratic mandate' he is, quite simply, extremely manipulative.
Disciplinary action should have been taken against him, and all those responsible, last year immediately after the WAO reports came out.

The link left by Jennifer Brown in the comment above is worth a read; Tackling psychopathy

I don't know whether all councillors have a copy of the new model constitution but I doubt it.