Wednesday 14 October 2015

October meeting, a prelude to Halloween

Today's meeting kicked off with a warning from the chief executive that the meeting was being held under the watchful eye of the Wales Audit Office, currently observing our local authority on Day 3 of its Corporate Assessment. This also meant that he himself had to pretend not to be arrogant and overbearing; difficult, I would imagine. I'm sure they're most welcome...

The carefully crafted agenda was almost derailed at the start by an observation from Cllr Caiach.

She brought up the decidedly unsavoury business of last month's Public Question fiasco.

Just mentioning the three names, Lesley Williams, Richard Vale and Mrs Thompson was enough for Mr James to press the Chair's panic button. She asked why the Chair, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths (Plaid) had not read out the questions from Mr Vale and Ms Williams, as provided by the constitution, nor circulated the replies as promised.

She then went on to ask why Mrs Thompson's question had not been answered properly but sadly she was cut short and ordered sharply to sit down. As Cllr Caiach persisted, the order to cease became almost hysterical. I hope the gentlemen from the WAO made notes.

The Chair then informed Cllr Caiach that both the absent questioners were happy to accept his explanation for failing to read out their questions, I understand that in fact, that was not exactly the case. He went onto say that as for Mrs Thompson, they 'couldn't have done more' to facilitate her question, although obviously this didn't extend to answering it truthfully.

With Cllr Caiach duly silenced and with a sigh of relief from the executive podium, the meeting moved on to the price of milk in a Motion to assist struggling farmers. With everyone in pleasant agreement there was more food for the WAO up next with a presentation from 'Investors in People', a quasi-governmental organisation, and an award for the authority for it's treatment of staff.

This was very commendable of course but didn't appear to include much in the way of direct contact with the actual staff in question and had been based on the findings of an in-house committee. A direct, anonymous, survey of staff satisfaction would have been far more useful..and far more revealing.

Still, I suppose it's an improvement on Meryl Gravell's remark a couple of years ago blaming her and Mark's 'problems at the council' on the laziness of 9000 staff.

The dream agenda continued with a presentation from the chief executive of Hywel Dda health board. There were lot's of 'challenges' and 'visions' and that they were 'absolutely committed to being open and transparent'.

A number of questions were posed from Members (you can see the full discussion on the webcast) and the Health Board chief gave a polished performance; smoothly agreeing with all criticism, making reassuring noises that the 'direction of travel' was 'in hand' and 'corners were being turned', whilst expertly deflecting the specifics.

Incidentally, Cllr Dole preceded his question by joking that he was currently 'on the spot' about his own 'vision', which appeared to elicit a ripple of sympathetic laughter.
Cllr Dole will not have long to wait, the 'barn' will be graced by a remarkably quick second visit from the Planning Committee next Tuesday morning, webcast will start at 1.30pm, after a convivial lunch.

The Health Board presentation took over an hour and served the incidental, but ever useful purpose of reducing the time available for the Council to scrutinise itself.

The Council's latest strategy, or in this case 'a journey' (no less) for affordable homes was up next. The main point is the plan to outsource the affordable housing service, in some shape or form, or as the council like to put these things an 'Alternative Service Delivery Plan'.

The Labour group were delighted that Plaid were carrying on their 'good work' and group leader, Cllr Jeff Edmunds hoped they'd be able to build more council houses one day, adding that they must 'learn lessons from the recent past'. He didn't elaborate as to whether this was a general comment about the conduct of the council or a direct attack on his predecessor, Kevin Madge and his infamous and massively over-budget bungalows.

The man from the WAO then presented the Improvement Report (I've mentioned this several times since it was published in June) but promised he'd be back with the findings of the full Corporate Assessment.  The Assessment will cover, amongst other things, whether the council have improved their 'governance arrangements' following the various scandals and damning reports.

They were, he said, spending a few days at County Hall and finding out what makes Carmarthenshire 'tick'.... Good luck with that.

The leader of the council, Cllr Dole, responded by reminding the WAO that they were paying them a substantial fee. I'm not sure if this was a reference to that well-known saying "He who pays the piper...." Surely not.

The next item saw some rumblings of opposition emerge over the Corporate Safeguarding report which was up for acceptance as Labour Cllr Sharen Davies called again for full CRB check for all members. Why, she wondered, had other authorities taken this up but not this one.

This had been discussed at a previous meeting and again Emlyn Dole inferred that there was no need to go down this route as all members signed a declaration on their nomination forms. This was not quite the same thing though and Cllr Edmunds couldn't remember signing such a declaration, nor what he'd had for breakfast, he added.

Cllr Davies has been particularly keen on this and said that the whole Labour group would support such a move, glaring at the Plaid group who do not seem particularly enthusiastic. Perhaps Cllr Davies knows something we don't.

Anyway the legalities of the proposal were, apparently, complicated and so this thorny issue found it's way back into the long grass to be chewed over by the head of law, Linda Rees Jones until a later date.

The decision to scrap meals on wheels also cropped up under the guise of the 'Community Nutritional Strategy for Carmarthenshire Integrated Services'. The Labour group were again unhappy and protested about the growing problem of rural isolation for elderly people. Sadly it was they themselves who exacerbated the problem by pushing through the closure of council run care homes, day centres and luncheon clubs over the past few years.

However, with regards to meals on wheels Cllr Louvain Roberts suggested that the figures which showed a decline in uptake 'could be skewed' depending on how they were collected.

Instead of defending his Executive Board recommendation (or rather that of his Indie colleague on the Exec Board, Jane Tremlett, who wasn't there) to accept the report and scrap meals on wheels, Cllr Dole accused Cllr Roberts of making serious allegations that the author of the report had played fast and loose with the figures.

After further discussion, an amendment put forward by Jeff Edmunds for a full seminar to discuss the report, before accepting it, was lost, and the report was approved.

The rest of the meeting can, as ever, be viewed on the archived webcast but in summary, it showed a lacklustre, puppet leadership and a disjointed, feeble opposition. So much for Jeff Edmunds and his challenge to the status quo, let alone a challenge to his political opponent.
And yet again, disgraceful treatment of Cllr Caiach.

So, all in all, business as usual in the madhouse.

As nearly all the council links to the webcast have currently been replaced by a corporate video, complete with flowers and music, I'll post a direct link here.


Anonymous said...

Kindly remind me, last news I noticed from Hywel Dda Trust was that they were effectively basing everything in the Swansea area, is this 'sort of' accurate?
I find it odd it isn't being protested against for those experiencing rural poverty in a transport and financial sense

caebrwyn said...

Anon 23:26 I'm not sure of their plans, even after listening to the presentation. It was all buzzwords and aspirations. They refused to reveal whether or not the planned new health centre for Cross Hands West was going ahead now that Sainsbury's have pulled out. I suspect, in truth they haven't a clue.

Anonymous said...

I was rather shocked that Bernadine Rees the supposed Chair of Hywel Dda health board, doesn't pronounce "Hywel Dda " in the usual manner. Does she really work somewhere else and was substituted in for the jargonfest presentation?