Wednesday 29 July 2015

Register of Members' Interests

Finally, after a kick up the backside from the WLGA Governance review last year, and a lot of legal chewing over what should and what shouldn't be published from monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones, Carmarthenshire Council has joined most of the democratic western world and published the Register of Members' Declarations, Gifts and Interests. They are required to publish it and it can be found here (pdf).

Publication of the register is also something which local bloggers have been calling for for some time purely in the interests of transparency. Long standing (perhaps that should be long suffering!) readers may recall my FOI efforts, and my eventual closely monitored visit to peruse the sacred parchments back in December 2011.

Back then the register was peppered with mysterious gifts of silk scarves and boxes of tea from visiting dignitaries from China as well as the usual invitations to the Council's hospitality box at Parc Y Scarlets stadium.

This time, it is still fairly standard stuff; the silk scarves are missing but the trips to the hospitality box are still sprinkled amongst the occasional Sheaffer pen, cufflinks and bunches of flowers. It is all on a far less monumental scale than the champagne receptions at the Millennium Stadium enjoyed by senior officers (post from 2011) of course.

In one particularly desperate attempt by the council to boost the stadium gate numbers Cllr Hazel Evans (Plaid) was invited to watch a game against the Blues, plus four of her friends She adds that they did give a few quid to the Chair's Charity and bought their own drinks. So that was all right then.

The register includes all the declarations of interests made by councillors at council meetings (already recorded in minutes anyway) since June 2012 and the annual notifications. For councillors elected before the 2012 local elections the original notifications are not always present, just an updated or 'nothing changed' entry for each year.

However, the most spectacular and deliberate failure to leave a meeting, let alone declare an interest, to date, was not a dozy councillor of course, but that oracle of local government knowledge, Mark James CBE. Personal, prejudicial, was all there at that Exec Board meeting in January 2012.

Anyway, back to the Register and there are a couple of strange entries including one from Cllr Dole (Plaid) relating to a solar park application. He wished to declare an interest at a planning committee meeting as he 'Does not know the applicant or objectors'. (my underline)

Of course sometimes the poor dears forget, the most recent example being Cllr Pat Jones (Lab) and the Grillo applications, urging everyone to 'let's get on with it' when she was a substitute on the planning committee.

Independent Cllr Joseph Davies wanted it known that a previous Notification which stated that he had received a donation towards his 2012 local election expenses from Pam and Meryl's Independent Group, was an 'error'.

Oo-er, I'm sure that would never would be terribly misleading for the voters of course if a supposedly independent candidate received such financial assistance, and sell their soul to Meryl's Mob...

For a polite turn of phrase look no further than a notification from Cllr Jeff Edmunds (Lab) who partook in a pub meal in far-off Cornwall with Building Research Establishment (BRE) representatives. The pub bash was prior to a renewable energy 'session' with Cornwall Council the following day;
"Unexpectedly our hosts kindly offered to pay for the meal and I accepted." Ah, nice.
The BRE advise the Council on renewable energy projects.

I nearly choked on my cornflakes when I read that some joker in County Hall had made Llandovery's Cllr Ivor Jackson (Ind) a substitute representative on APSE, the Association of Professional Service Excellence. 
The words 'Cllr Jackson' should, quite simply, never be mentioned in the same breath as the word 'Excellence'. I have already mentioned his role as representative on a parking adjudication panel...

Of course what is logged on the register and what happens in the real world can sometimes be two separate entities but at least residents will no longer have to endure heavily escorted visits to County Hall to see what their local councillor has declared, or not declared...officially anyway.

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