Wednesday 9 December 2015

December's meeting - pork pies and mince pies

Aside from an initial breath of fresh air from several sixth formers giving their views on the council's budget proposals, including a powerful case against the £18m cuts to schools, today's meeting was the usual dire mix of smugness, propaganda and grumbling ill-humour.

Several points are worth a mention.

During the 'anything to declare' part at the start of the meeting several councillors started to say they were in receipt of Single Farm Payments so they thought they'd, er, better not vote on the Motion on the UK's Membership of the EU.

Declarations should be made of course when a direct financial, prejudicial or personal interest comes up, particularly when it comes to planning or licensing, but whether Huw's sheep or Dilwyn's cows would be direct beneficiaries from a vague council motion to support EU membership in a distant referendum is surely questionable.

You may have read Cllr Caiach's recent blogpost which questions whether some of the contrived declarations and negligible connections trotted out at each meeting are absolutely necessary and in fact, deter local members speaking on behalf of their constituents for spurious reasons. This one, I'm sure, falls under that category.

However, Cllr Caiach had barely begun to question the point of these declarations when she was silenced by the Chair, (Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths) and Chief Executive. Cllr Caiach tried to continue but the webcast audio was mysteriously switched off. This is obviously a new ploy by the dynamic duo, perhaps involving pre-arranged signals to the technicians should Cllr Caiach say something untoward, such as, god forbid, the truth.

Of course it could have been an entirely coincidental, one-off, 'technical issue'...
Perhaps discussions around the subject of declaration of interest are a sore point for the chief executive, who notoriously failed to declare a direct financial, prejudicial and personal interest when being granted his libel indemnity, making it even more illegal than it already was.

As an anecdote I can recall, several years ago, Cllr Tom Theophilus declaring an interest in Prince Charles' planning application in Llwynwormwood as the councillor's nephew worked with the protection team at Highgrove. Quite where the prejudicial or personal interest arose here was anyone's guess, but at least Tom got to reveal his distant royal credentials to the mystified crowd.

But back to the meeting and I was particularly interested (see 'December's agenda') in the responses to the two questions posed by labour leader Jeff Edmunds, expecting a smattering of that well known, (but little heard of in these parts) democratic function of 'holding to account'.

The first was to ask Emlyn Dole if councillors should maintain high standards of behaviour, follow the code, and all that. As expected, Cllr Dole's answer was a simple 'yes'.
Cllr Edmunds then asked a supplementary question which, instead of using the opportunity to make the point we were expecting, was more or less the same, adding a bit about whether Leaders, ie Cllr Dole, should set an example.

Again Cllr Dole was able to say a simple, 'yes'.

Although viewers would need a sixth sense to detect it, this was an attempt to hold the leader to account aver the barn fiasco, but, with the Plaid Chair constantly speaking over him and clearly reluctant to allow Cllr Edmunds to elaborate, it failed miserably.

Another pointless effort followed as Cllr Edmunds asked Cllr Jane Tremlett (Ind) (Exec Board member for social care) about the allegations concerning Coastal Care and the misuse of EU funds, previously reported on Cneifiwr's blog, and more recently on this blog and in last week's Carmarthenshire Herald. Everywhere in fact.

The current policy which sees council whistleblowers unexpectedly finding themselves at the wrong end of a disciplinary hearing has also been something of an ongoing issue. Cllr Edmunds was calling for a full public inquiry into the allegations.

Dear Jane was ready with her script, clearly written for her by the legal department. There was no outright denial (that would have been dangerous should the truth manage to leak out), instead there was the usual waffle about independent auditors, non-compliant claims being adjusted, (not, I add, in the sense that the whistleblowers' had reported) and that "nothing had been brought to my attention which required further investigation", but if Cllr Edmunds had any information she might look at it.

In other words, a whitewash.

Cllr Edmunds then had a supplementary question. Could Cllr Tremlett provide copies of the whistleblowers' reports to councillors? She merely repeated the gist of first answer. So no, she wouldn't.

With Cllrs Dole and Tremlett off the hook, Cllr Edmunds was reduced to squabbling with the Chair over whether he could use quotations or not.

He recently made much of how his challenge to the 'status quo', and in particular, his challenge to Mark James cost Labour power and how, in opposition he would hold the executive to account. Admittedly, this is not easy in Carmarthenshire, but I would suggest he acquaints himself how, at the very least, to attempt it with effect and determination and takes a few urgent lessons from Cllr Caiach.

Cllr Caiach had put her own 'Councillor Question' forward on the subject of the Coastal Care allegations but Mark James refused to put it on the agenda. He considered Cllr Caiach's question to be defamatory but has failed to provide details to substantiate his decision.

The Chair, or Chief Executive, (the lines are forever blurred), has also decided, in another curious interpretation of the constitution, never to throw the subject matter of Councillor's Questions (or Public Questions, I noted) to the floor for debate. Hell no!

In fact Cllr Hughes Griffiths seems to be enjoying his stint Chairing council meetings, he also seems to enjoy the sound of his own voice. It's quite clear that control-freak extraordinaire Mark James has no problems whatsoever with the behaviour of the current Chair. The Civic shin-pads can be safely stored in the cupboard for yet another year.

To view the discussion around the EU Motion and the squabble at the end of the meeting over Plaid's 'Vision for Carmarthenshire' press release, you'll have to watch the archive but I'll finish for now with the report from the Chair of the Standards Committee (who is a lay member, not a councillor).

Delivering the committee's annual report, he said that the council were all jolly good chaps and had earned a well deserved pat on the back for their marvellous whistleblowing policy...not only that, but they all deserved yet another pat on the back for their "democracy and transparency".

I nearly chocked on my tea. The only explanation I could come up with was that the poor man had wandered into the wrong council.

With that, they all, (well, perhaps not all), trotted off to the Chair's Parlour for corporate coffee and mince pies. Ho ho ho.


Anonymous said...

What a total shambles. It beggars belief that the latest webcast was that of a Council that wishes to be "the most transparent and democratic".The chairman with his finger pointing etc. does very little to enhance the reputation that this Council already has of being a platform for the select few.Any hint of criticism is abruptly silenced. The electorate should make their feelings known at the elections in May. No one is indispensable even the non elected.

Anonymous said...

Never heared anything like it in my life.

Anonymous said...

Aaah, the lunatics are building to a crescendo. Crimbo madness has set in and they're all focussed elsewhere.

Days are numbered for the majority of these idiots/snout troughers/plebs/feckwits/luddites/sycophants (choose as many that apply) and they know it. So they are making the most of what they can while they can.

The Mad Hatters (or mark james) tea parties will continue in this vein until he disappears and that cannot be soon enough. The damage this fool has wreaked upon this county will take far longer than his reign ever was to rectify. Like dummy dole the cost for reparations should be taken out of his salary. Fat chance of that happening so all we can hope for is to see this circus dismantled pronto.

They serve nothing except their own agendas - not even 5th rate politicians, majority would struggle to find even a normal job.

Anonymous said...

Just goes to show Jeff Edmunds is not a very shrewd or accomplished politician He undertakes a coup de etat and oust his leader by one vote and then assumes his salary will jump up as he becomes Leader , forgetting to consult his partners . He has a front bench or shadow exec of mediocre Llanelli councillors who well bless em are not much good , The Gwendreath and Amman Valley labour councillors are not working with him . His performance in the Chamber could be described as dismissal , trying to be clever and failing Asking an open question and getting the answer Yes then asking exactly the same question and getting the same answer Oh Yes what was the reply YES . perhaps Labour should look to a new leader in May

Unknown said...

Firstly I was sorry to hear of Paul Stait's passing and pass on my condolences to his family and friends. I realise that the chairs of committees receive information & advice from Administration & Law but I would like to think that when shown proof that policies have not been followed or that information given to them has not always been truthful they would have the power & the will to delve into the matter. As a whistleblower I have found policies were not being followed and officers who were involved during my whistleblowing, statutory complaint and my subsequent disciplinary were influencing the actions to be taken against me (to silence me). Not only should members avoid genuine conflicts of interest but so should officers as is stated in some of the policies especially the "Listening&Learning" statutory Welsh Assembly Government guidance in place at the time I complained about the failure of the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Abuse (POVA) to investigate properly or protect service users after four whistleblowers spoke out between November 2009 and February 2010(only I had whistleblown to the POVA manager in November 2009). We were not treated as whistleblowers though it seems a POVA meeting recorded, at the time, the information came to them under the whistleblowing policy. The Standards Committee Chair was told, there had been no whistleblowing incidents during that period, by Administration & Law and I find it a shame that none of this was disclosed to me by Carmarthenshire County Council during my Employment Tribunal as they were still maintaining I/we were not being classed as whistleblowers at the time. A whistleblowing policy will only be effective if it is followed just as any other policy in this Authority will only keep officers and members honest if they are followed and not just hailed as proof that the public interest is being protected when plainly it is not. Conflicts of interest abound and where there is no honesty, transparency or scrutiny this toxic Authority will never change its ways. Coercion and fear for ones position keeps the wrongdoers safe from accountability. As long as the Welsh Assembly Government and the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales pussy foot around and do not scrutinise how well policies are not being followed then we can expect no change. Service users and the public's interest will continue to lag behind the interests of the officers and members whose energies are spent in protecting their own reputations and positions.