Monday 8 October 2018

Full council and planted questions

After noticing a pointless question about tourism figures from a Plaid Cymru backbencher to the Plaid administration at last month's full council meeting, I see there are two more highly suspect, planted questions on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting. One question concerns the affordable housing 'journey' and the other relates to school performance. This is a worrying trend.

Spontaneity and topical debate was stopped a couple of years ago when the chief executive removed Any Other Business, and relegated all the committee minutes to the tail end of the agenda, just for 'noting'. Much of each meeting is now taken up with death-by-power point presentations, leaving little time for any serious debate. It is largely a sanitised, polite and dull affair.

There are usually a handful of tightly controlled 'Councillor Questions' and Motions covering issues which are often unrelated directly to the Council, and, as the administration has seven days to come up with an answer to any questions, not exactly cutting edge stuff. Public questions have dwindled to zero. The agenda is, of course, controlled by the chief executive, as is the council itself.
Full council meetings have become little more than a platform for propaganda, a showpiece of spin and half truths. 

This latest trend, where a Plaid councillor asks a Plaid Executive Board Member to 'explain' the 'wonderful success' of something-or-other, is such a blatant piece of propaganda as to be laughable.
Wikipedia informs me, reliably I'm sure, that in Australian politics, such questions are know as 'Dorothy Dixers'

Opposition questions can be equally staged of course, although last month a Labour councillor came up with an interesting supplementary. His question, on homelessness and affordable housing prompted a lengthy response from Emlyn Dole's sister-in-law, Exec Board Member Linda Evans who waxed lyrical over their achievements and commitment to accommodate those less fortunate than themselves. (perhaps Emlyn's got a couple of spare rooms at Pontyberem's very own Southfork..).

He then asked how many young people were currently holed up in unsatisfactory HMOs. Ah, there were some, she said, unavoidable, I'm afraid, er, something we're addressing, she faltered.
Mind you, she could always ask Mr James for advice, he knows a thing or two about trying to make people homeless..

As for the council's Scrutiny Committees as hotbeds of executive questioning, they were recently subject to a review by the Wales Audit Office which found that they were still officer-led; Executive Board members were not being held accountable and presentations from external bodies took up a disproportionate amount of time. They found little evidence that Scrutiny took forward either internal audit or Wales Audit Office reports; public engagement was minimal and the meetings are not webcast; some members wandered out before the end of the meetings and attendance at training sessions was low.

Of course Caebrwyn can think of lots of questions to put to full council, from plunging the county into terminal debt for Mr James' Wellness Dream, to wasteful complaints to the Ombudsman, to the latest nonsense over the unlawful libel indemnities. And everything in between.
Including a £3.9m black hole in the revenue budget.
Though I was one of the first, in over ten years, to ask a public question back in 2015. Essentially it concerned a bung to Scarlets Regional Ltd by the chief executive, contrary to the advice of his own Finance Director.

If political groups want to put out propaganda, which obviously they all do, and at any opportune moment, they have their own party machine and means to do it, and in Carmarthenshire, the current, and indeed previous administration, also have a well-resourced, and publicly funded press office who will happily oblige.
Whilst an element of political grandstanding and cross-party bickering at full council meetings is to be expected, full council meetings are not the place for these questions and take the already dire proceedings to a new low.
It would seem that the Plaid leadership are perhaps composing the 'questions' for their own councillors to read out. This is not what 'Councillor Questions' are for and are an abuse of the provision.

Perhaps it's time for the great Carmarthenshire public to get back down to County Hall ask a few questions ourselves. 


towy71 said...

Is this some sort of democratic shortfall? Is the council worth any of the money they squeeze out of us? I don't think so, we are being shortchanged by a broken party system and naked self interest!

Anonymous said...

The problem is that Carmarthenshire public are unaware of what is going on.

caebrwyn said...

Just to add some further councillor related news, the Independent Remuneration Panel Wales are recommending a pay rise of £800 for the Leader, deputy leader and remaining Exec Board Members. These senior salaries will then be £49,100, £34,600 and £30,100, plus expenses, respectively.

Other senior salaries, such as Committee Chairs etc, will go up by £268, as will the basic rate for ordinary councillors.

Councillors will be deciding whether or not to accept the recommendations at a Committee meeting next Monday. Voters, on the other hand, will have to wait until 2022 to decide whether or not they were worth it...

As for senior officer pay, that remains in an eye-watering class of its own, particularly for our award winning chief executive.

Keanjo said...

Why do we need 22 primary local authorities in Wales ? We should go back to the 8 counties we had before reorganisation with huge savings on fewer councillors ,Chief Executives and Directors of this that and the other.

Anonymous said...

12 Counties Not 8 before reorganisation turned into 8 Super counties i.e. Dyfed , Gwent then reorganisation turned into 22 unitary authorities .Labour have commissioned reports that have suggest various options but until Labour persuades into own councils i.e. the majority in East Wales to merge you will have to keep the same system . The WG wants to increase the number of AM which would mean that they want to take on the services and that would mean less local representation

Keanjo said...

Anon, the present system is unaffordable and unsustainable and the cost of councillors, directors and senior administrators can be reduced only by reducing the present number of authorities
The alternative, which I am sure the WG has already considered is for the WG to take over Education, Social Services and Highways ,which accounts for the majority of public expenditure ,and leave the rest to be administered by the Local Authorities.

Gracealma said...

Excellent post Keanjo. I nominate you to run Wales as we desperately need someone with common sense to be in charge.

Anonymous said...

Re. “Full council meetings have become little more than a platform for propaganda, a showpiece of spin and half truths”

Take a look at this year’s April meeting and cllr Rob James’ motion for an e-petition ( First of all notice that, in his response, cllr Dole does not deny that he misled council over the flying of the rainbow flag. Cllr Dole then goes on to blame the absence of a CCC e-petition page on and the lack of bilingual software.

Maybe Cllr Dole should have a chat with Conwy county council as Conwy doesn’t seem to have any problem with providing their residents with a bilingual e-petition facility. They appear to know that the “software” running a webpage is not language dependent and would the same whether the text on the page is presented in English, Welsh or Swahili. See and Looking at the ‘source’ for the respective e-petition pages you will see it is identical bar the text that the user sees on the page.

The lack of questions from the great Carmarthenshire public is hardly surprising when they know that the answer they are likely to get would comprise of spin and half truths.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 09:52
Thanks for your comment, the failure to implement the epetition facility is yet another farce and merely a way of avoiding public engagement, as you point out, no one else seems to have a problem with providing a bilingual service. I mentioned the April meeting here;
Council epetitions - is the four year wait nearly over?

Anonymous said...

Caebrwyn, you say in your update on the April meeting “Instead of embracing and reinforcing an an important principle of public engagement and transparency, Emlyn Dole chose to put it back in the long grass where it has languished for four years and his party, along with the Independents voted to reject the Motion by 31 votes to 22. Why would anyone vote against this at all? Unless they were following orders... Shame on them."

Precisely - have Dole & Co not bothered to read their own document ‘Carmarthenshire County Council Digital Transformation Strategy 2017-2020’ ( As usual a CCC strategy full of empty words including “Our elected members will be play a key role in embracing the latest digital technology and will ensure we provide an inclusive digital service to our residents”

Anonymous said...

Keanjo Have you ever dealt with WG ? WAST {Welsh Ambulance Service } is run by them - often sham. cannot decisions Trunk Road Agency slow to respond. Try writing an email to WG , you get an email acknowledgment with 3-4 days and a reply 17 working days . YES MINISTER is nothing on their bureaucracy. Notice the news never answer just that they are consulting on it -Keanjo get real

Keanjo said...

Anon, I have dealt with WG more than you can imagine. I have obviously failed to convey to you that I was pointing out that if Local Authorities failed to get their act together and provide services at a reasonable cost ,the Welsh Government could be tempted to take the major services and leave LAs with local planning ,libraries and leisure services .Believe me that is real.

Gracealma said...

The trouble with public questions is that the whole procedure is so tightly controlled by the CEO MBE that he decides whether a question is rejected, downgraded to a written reply or given a totally meaningless, usually unintelligible verbal response. Carmarthenshire Council is a farce and has been for many years and it's time to acknowledge the fact that in this authority councillors are superfluous, powerless and a waste of public money.

Redhead said...

May I ask how the "Wellness Valley fared in the recent rains?

caebrwyn said...

Absolutely right, it is a farce. Mr James also controls the procedure for Councillor Questions and Motions, a notorious example of the latter, in 2016, can be seen here. Unfortunately anything resembling democratic local government in Carmarthenshire will remain elusive whilst Mr James remains in post, he is not just a control freak but (and I speak from experience) a vindictive bully and a pathological liar.

I daresay it all got a bit wetter and bit swampier! How much of Llanelli's run-off ended up in Delta Lakes is anyone's guess, let alone the contents of Combined Sewage Overflows. Hopefully the rickety sluice gate prevented any pollutants from entering the adjacent protected estuary. As the council is hoping to push the planning application through by November I doubt if the true picture will emerge. The eventual consequence of building on a partial C2 floodplain with fluvial and tidal flood risks will not become evident until the thing is built.

Wavell said...

It's a real shame that this countries public bodies are now completely mistrusted from top to bottom levels. Chief Executives to Community Councillors.
Whenever there is any problem then the buck is passed from top to lower levels.
Look at the NHS. The elderly get the blame. They want to inject more money, but make no effort to genuinely see where the money goes. They do not examine (closely) the competence of the management (supposedly) running the system.
Look at the Grenfell disaster. They hound the firemen but seem to ignore the planners, the Council and the building inspectorate during construction.
Look at Councils, any problems will be pointing to the Councillors making the final decisions. When it comes to the crunch then they will be the ones facing the music, and rightly so for their puppet like actions.
Just look at the voting in Council, it is always consistent irrespective of the outcome.
Jobs for the boys methinks.