Wednesday 13 April 2016

April shower...and the long grass

Unfortunately Meryl wasn't present at today's full council meeting to answer those awkward questions over Parc Howard from Cllrs Bill Thomas and Jan Williams. She was, we learned from Pam Palmer, resting following a surgical procedure on Monday. She wanted her deepest regret for not being there to answer those questions to be passed on to the councillors concerned...

What usually happens under these circumstances is that the question is not read out and the questioners will receive a written response at some distant point in the future, if they're lucky.

Fortunately, it seems that Cllrs Thomas and Williams had the foresight to withdraw the questions as soon as they had wind of Meryl's absence, to save them for a full council meeting when they are certain she will be present to give a straight answer, well, an answer anyway. 

Next up was a Motion from Labour to reconstitute, like powdered egg, the School Transport Appeals Panel, something they'd got rid of themselves in 2014 to save £30,000. What happens now is that applications to appeal for transport to schools outside the catchment area are processed by officers with most of them being turned down under strict criteria.

The Labour group admitted that they felt they'd made a mistake and local, democratic involvement, and an element of discretion, was important. It should, like the Housing Appeal Review Panel, be member, not officer, led. As a vehicle for public appeals, it should also be a politically balanced committee.

The Plaid amendment proposed that the arrangements should be changed but limited the Panel to two Executive Board Members and the local member for the relevant ward, with officers advising.

The chief executive, with his preference for all things officer-led, became involved and clearly wasn't keen on the Motion, nor, it has to be said, the Plaid amendment, but limiting a committee to two members of his dutiful Executive Board was probably the better of two evils. 

He accused the Labour proposer of merely trying to ensure that as many appeals as possible would be passed, shaking his head during the councillor's address and laughing at the ridiculousness of the idea.
Carmarthenshire, he said, would be the only authority in Wales with a member-led panel (and so would look foolish?) and to top it all, such a school transport 'free for all' would 'undermine rural schools'.

With the Mark James Council having closed forty-odd village schools over the past ten years I don't think a member-led transport appeal panel would make a lot of difference, to be honest.

Anyway, the Plaid amendment was duly carried, so, there will be no politically balanced committee to determine your school transport appeals.

Next was a Motion for a free parking pilot in Ammanford, another town centre in terminal decline. A similar pilot, for a couple of hours a day, had been approved for Llanelli last year but six months after the trial, the results are still a mystery.

Plaid put forward an amendment for council to refuse this motion as parking was still being considered by a Task and Finish group. Labour Cllr Terry Davies pointed out that this wasn't an amendment, it was a response, negating the Motion, and neither was it dated....he was surprised that our experienced chief executive had allowed it... 
Clearly Mr James approved of this amendment...

Agreed, there are many issues aside from free parking which affect town centre trade, and, as Plaid pointed out, the Welsh Government's decision to remove rate relief for small retail premises hasn't helped. Neither, I suppose, has online shopping, nor the whacking great Tesco, well away from the town centre with its massive free car park.

Anyway Cllr Edmunds, Labour leader, reminded councillors that they did have the power to implement this, it might help in the short term, and it was only a trial after all.

However, with the Plaid and Independent ranks in tightly whipped form today, their amendment was carried, so no free parking trial for Ammanford for the forseeable future.

Following that was Labour Cllr Ryan Thomas' Motion on the damning internal Audit Report on Pembrey Country Park and the Millenium Coastal Park. It was proposed that the full report be circulated and the findings checked over by the police and the Wales Audit Office.

Cllr Bill Thomas seconded the Motion and confirm that he, along with others (including me) had been hearing horror stories for a year or two.

Cllr Dole's response was deeply patronising. He was surprised to see this motion, the young councillor was clearly naive of the intricacies of Carmarthenshire council procedures, unlike Professor 'two barns' Dole I suppose... 
This was a 'Function of Audit', he said, and the Audit Committee had resolved to form an action plan, to be regularly spoon-fed monitored as officers sorted out the mess 'historic issues', full council was not the time nor the place... 
Mr James would have been proud,..

If there were any irregularities then councillors must put their trust in the chief executive and Linda Rees Jones to report them to the relevant external authorities.... Oh dear.

It doesn't seem so long ago that Plaid Cymru, in opposition, were clamouring for openness and transparency, and indeed blood, over those Wales Audit Office public interest things change. 

Cllr Edmunds spoke in support of the Motion and pointed out that the airing of serious internal issues in a public arena was what being 'open and transparent' was all about.

Later in the meeting Cllr Ryan Thomas asked again about the full report and apparently it hasn't been completed yet, which is strange given the specific and numerous serious breaches which appear to have taken place. When it was complete, senior officers, Chair of Audit etc would be given a copy. Whether all councillors would receive it, with acceptable redactions, remained to be seen. 

So, with more whipping, the whole business was successfully kicked into touch, No publicly available report, no reference to the police, and no reference to the Wales Audit Office.
Business as usual.

(15th April; Cadno's observations regarding this unsavoury business are this week's Carmarthenshire Herald, and it's well worth a read) 

Finally the curtains were drawn, the press, public and webcast viewers kicked out as the exempt item on Tai Cantref Housing Association came under discussion. Whether or not it was resolved to try and merge with a problem-riddled organisation, with almost its entire housing stock situated in another county, we'll have to wait and see..

Update 14th April; In the least surprising news of the week Carmarthenshire council have confirmed they're interested in forming a 'partnership' with Tai Cantref 

Webcast here


Anonymous said...

You obviously have more pressing matters on your mind at the moment (good luck, for what it's worth) but I just read the article in today's Journal about the situation with Pembrey County Park -- and whilst I am not an expert on council procedure, it seems to me that a councillor bringing up a matter he is concerned about is WHAT COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE (or should be) FOR...! I hope the police and the WAO do get involved.

I just get more and more disappointed with Cllr Dole every day...

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the Journal article because I got fed up many moons ago with it being just a propaganda rag for the council but the Herald, on the other hand, dares to go where no other print newspaper in this area will tread and it has an excellent report this week on Cllr Dole's patronising, rude attitude to the new councillor who - bless his soul - was trying to get at the truth in a council meeting. (Good luck with that; others before you have tried and failed miserably.)

You are right, Jessica - Cllr Dole is a huge disappointment and has single-handedly lost three former Plaid voters in this household and, from what I can gather, many more out there who have sworn not to vote Plaid again following their farcical shenanigans in the county council.