Saturday 25 August 2012

Belt tightening

Cneifiwr will be away for most of the coming week trying to earn a crust, but these being the dog days of August, and with Carmarthenshire County Council continuing its very extended break, it is unlikely that there will be much to report on that front.

Like fellow blogger Caebrwyn, Cneifiwr does an occasional sweep of the council's website to see what is going on, starting with the Agendas and Minutes section which deals with meetings of the various committees, the full council and the various members of the executive board.

For those who remember the famous Carlsberg advert which showed a complaints office covered in a thick layer of dust and cobwebs, it's like that only more so. Carlsberg had one empty department; Carmarthenshire has a whole suite of them.

The big sleep began back at the beginning of March when the previous administration held its final meeting of the full council ahead of the elections two months later. Since the May elections the full council has had an Annual General Meeting and one ordinary meeting. In effect this means just two meetings in 6 months (the fancy dress jamboree of the AGM was spread over two sessions) .

The planning and licensing committees have met on a regular basis because, of course, they have to deal with applications which would otherwise pile up. None of the other committees has managed a single meeting since the elections, including the various Scrutiny Committees. The chairs of those committees are paid a salary of £21,910 per year.

In the case of the scrutiny committees the reason for the inactivity is understandable:  there is nothing to scrutinise.

Up at the top of the tree is the Executive Board, which Kevin Madge expanded from 9 to 10 members. He also felt that he needed two deputies, whereas previously the council had struggled along with just one.

The two deputies are Tegwen Devichand (Housing) and Pam Palmer (Business Management and Rural Affairs). They each draw a salary of £31,120.

Among the minutes and agendas is a section dealing with decision meetings held by the various members of the Executive Board. The two deputies have between them clocked up precisely zero decision meetings since May. Pam Palmer's only known outing in her new role as champion of the county's rural communities was a press release about milk prices. She has no more control or influence over milk prices than you or I, but it's important to sound as though you care.

The other 7 members of the Executive Board with a portfolio have collectively managed to hold 8 decision meetings, although Cllr Jane Tremlett (Social Services and Literary Quotations) also scored a duck.

Together Cllrs Madge, Devichand and Palmer are drawing salaries (excluding expenses, pensions, etc.) of £109,740 a year. Together the remaining 7 members of the Executive Board take home £201,250.

Collectively, then, they have cost us £103,663 since the elections in May, and they have participated in 4 Board meetings and 8 decision meetings. That works out at a cost of £8,386 per meeting (excluding expenses, pension contributions, etc.). Cllrs Madge, Devichand and Palmer are slightly less good value, having cost us £9,145 per meeting.

With all this frenzied activity, it is understandable that not all of the Executive Board members manage to get to every meeting. Cllrs Meryl Gravell and Mair Stephens both missed one of the four meetings.

The chairs of the scrutiny committees (£21,190 p.a.) have taken home £35,316 since the election without chairing a single meeting.

At that thought I will leave you choking on your cornflakes as I head off for work.


Anonymous said...

Scandalous - I expect to rtead about this absolutely disgusting waste of my money in next weeks Journal - Joke !

Mrs Angry said...

This is just utterly unacceptable: to claim an allowance for a responsibility which is not undertaken is a matter which should and must be challenged. It is a flagrant act of exploitation of the public purse. One example would be bad enough but as a commonplace activity it becomes something rather more serious.

Anonymous said...

Just because there are no formal meetings does not mean that we're not carrying out our duties. It's not all about meetings you know?

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you Anon. I am sure that most councillors (there are exceptions) remain busy trying to help constituents with their problems. The point here is that when the public elects councillors who go on to form an administration, it has a right to expect that they will bring ideas and policies to the table which will make a difference to the county as a whole. That is clearly not happening on the evidence of the council's formal decision making structures, and people have a right to be angry that senior councillors are taking generous salaries nonetheless.

Mrs Angry said...

One wonders, Anon, if perhaps councillors should be subject to some sort of performance appraisal which would reassure electors that their representatives are working hard on their behalf? Otherwise, in the absence of minuted meetings, it is difficult to judge whether or not members are indeed entitled to their allowances. And if meetings are not taking place, this means that the democratic process of decision making is not being enacted in the public domain, but behind closed doors: hardly in the interests of scrutiny and transparency.