Wednesday 12 September 2012

Autumn Term - A whiff of scandal (Part II)

You can just imagine Council Chair, Siân Thomas, asking a group of children, "Now who can tell me what it says under the County's Coat of Arms? No, it's not that Kevin. Winston, do put that down".

Well, the answer is Rhyddid Gwerin Ffyniant Gwlad, which roughly translated means "the freedom of the people ensures the prosperity of the land". It really ought to be changed.

Socks and spin

Skipping over the Annual Treasury Management and Prudential Indicator Report 2011-12, we reached the Annual Report of the Director of Social Services. That's the one which told us about Mr Davies's socks.

The Director, Bruce McLernon, took 7 pages to deliver his introduction to the report, and he was not about to let us off any more lightly.

Perhaps it was the acoustics in the public gallery, or perhaps it was the delivery, but Mr McLernon could be heard mumbling rapidly in a monotonous Ulster drawl for what felt like hours.

He told us, somewhere near the beginning, that he enjoyed preparing these annual reports because he could highlight all of the good things that were happening. Which is actually spin for, well, spin.

Somewhere towards the end he got on to Areas for Improvement.

If you have been around the block a few times, you will know that when you get to questions in a job interview about your strengths and weaknesses, you must never, ever admit to any weaknesses. What you do is take a strength and present it as a weakness. For example, "I am not a very patient person.I like to see results".

Mr McLernan admitted that his weakness was wanting to listen to and engage with councillors much more.

Glynog Davies decided to try a bit of engagement. What could the council do to help people with learning difficulties, especially those in rural areas, to develop and learn new skills?

Mr McLernon quoted The Daily Telegraph, the newspaper of choice for all those in social services, and side-stepped the question.

Alun Lenny asked a very good question about dementia and language, a subject touched on recently by this blog, and one which deserves separate treatment.

Kevin Madge rose again and waffled. "Let's be honest,, doing an excellent job,.....lots of work to be done,.....less resources,......challenges".

If Cllr Lenny was hoping for an answer, he wasn't going to get one from Kev.

Cllr Tremlett stepped forward once more to say that Cllr Lenny's question was very pertinent, and there were some plans.

A whiff of scandal

Just as things seemed to be calming down, Winston Lemon decided to toss in a hand grenade. "We're short of this and that and everything else for older people, but when it comes to substance abusers, there is a bottomless pit". Llanelli was turning into an open prison, he said.

Mr McLernon made a point about the families of substance abusers, and said that much of the work was being done by charities.

Meryl Gravell was rattled. If it weren't for the voluntary sector, the budget for social care would be far higher, she said.

Winston tussled with the Headmistress over his right of reply. Voluntary services? The director of one unnamed voluntary service was earning £57,500 a year, he fumed. How voluntary was that?

Keri Thomas (Labour) asked what sort of scrutiny was carried out on the voluntary sector.

The Chief Executive decided to tread carefully in view of the allegations. The council inspected the services being provided by "third sector" organisations, but not necessarily their finances. That was something that was normally done by government.

Like Awema, he might have added, but didn't.

Other councillors were also concerned about misappropriation of funds, and suddenly, up in the public gallery, the usual smell of mildew, BO and boiled cabbage was suffused with a whiff of scandal. No organisation was named, but it would not be too hard to guess. Keep reading the blogs.

Cllr Mair Stephens (Independent), another member of the ruling Executive Board, intervened. Charities were regulated by the Charities Commission, and without them we would be in "a very, very bad place".

Perhaps she would like to check the accounts of some of the Council's partners in the Third Sector. How about Towy Community Church? Only thanks to some nifty footwork by the church's accountants and lawyers, there are none available. 

An Uplifting Car Park

Eventually we moved on to reviewing minutes of past meetings of the Executive Board. 

Cllr David Jenkins asked about a mysterious item relating to the sale of an asset by the Scarlets. Are we entitled to know what the anticipated income from that development might be, he enquired.

Siân Caiach was less coy when she asked whether the council might get a share of the proceeds from the sale of the 150 year lease on the car park.

The Chief Executive looked grave. The land was leased for 150 years, he explained, and we cannot take it back, even if we wanted to.

This made the incredibly long peppercorn lease all sound a bit regrettable, and nothing at all to do with the Chief Executive, but he had some good news. Before the lease can be sold, the rugby club will need the council's permission, and "there would normally be a division of any uplift".

As we know, there is nothing normal about the arrangements between the council and the rugby club, but Mr James assured councillors that there would be money coming in. He just did not know how much, and anyway the land was not really a car park, it was just vacant land which might be used as a car park.

Nobody thought to ask what the council's percentage share would be.


Winston Lemon was back on his feet. How about some assistance for the "round ball" for once (a reference to football for any non-sporting readers)?

Kevin Madge was off again. "Difficult times.....bottom line....real quality jobs coming out of coming in."

The "real quality jobs" he was referring to would be in the pub/hotel which is being proposed for the site. 

A couple of councillors suggested that there was no reason why some of the windfall from the non-car park could not go to football, if anyone wanted to apply.

Rather unkindly, the Chair pointed out that in view of the previous night's fiasco (Wales were thrashed 6-1 by Serbia), Welsh football needed all the help it could get. 

Remedial reading

Next was Estyn's general review of the county's schools. This was warmly welcomed, and Kevin Madge seized the opportunity to boast that his old school had received a mention.

Fortunately the report had not gone into any embarrassing detail about young Kev's school record.

This took us on to the current furore about GCSE grades. The Chief Executive pointed out that a couple of the county's schools were particularly affected, and that it could have serious implications for their bandings.

Kev also took the opportunity to talk about the Executive Board's Big Day Out in Ammanford. Next on the list for visits are Kidwelly and Llandeilo.

He has also been on lots of visits to different parts of the county with the relevant local members. Thank goodness for the new Merc.

A question about coastal erosion followed, and this was dealt with at some length by Cllr Colin Evans, who managed to sneak in a polar bear-ist joke.


Peter Hughes Griffiths, the Plaid leader, referred back to the trip to Ammanford where the Executive Board had unanimously (as always) approved a "partnership agreement" between Labour and the Independents. PHG said large chunks of it were uncannily reminiscent of Plaid's election manifesto, and he reeled off a dozen or more examples of points which appeared to have been lifted straight out of that document. 

He therefore felt obliged to welcome the agreement, but noted that it was due to expire after only one year. Plaid would be very happy to help if they ran out of ideas after that.

One of the very few advantages the public has up in the gallery is that it can sometimes see things which the councillors cannot.

So when Kev rose yet again to reply to Peter Hughes Griffiths, he could not see his Labour colleagues behind him shifting uncomfortably in their seats, staring at the floor and looking generally suicidal.

Suddenly in the middle of the flow of waffle, our leader revealed for no apparent reason that he reads "the blogs", before going on to talk about building bungalows (the council is hoping to start building homes again).

He thanked PHG, and welcomed what he had said. Kev does not do irony.

Rosa Klebb

Seating arrangements are important.

Giles Morgan (Independent) used to sit on the back benches, but has now moved down to the spot formerly occupied by Meryl Gravell. Meryl, for so long Queen of the Chamber, has removed herself to Giles's old perch, even though she is still on the Executive Board.

The result is that Giles can no longer see the sharpened knitting needles.

Anyway, Giles does get irony, and he made a little joke about Plaid and Labour having just two manifestos between them, whereas the Independents had 21 (or possibly 22).

If you have ever seen one of these documents, you are very lucky. Nobody else has, but Giles wanted to keep up the old pretence that the Independents really are what it says on the can.

Minutes later he was skewered by one of Meryl's knitting needles, as she told councillors that in the run-up to the council elections, she had sat down with Pam and Kev to discuss plans and review Plaid's manifesto.

Together the trio had concluded that a huge part of the Plaid manifesto was in fact the programme adopted by her administration.

That told us all we needed to know about the independence of the Independents and the credentials of Carmarthenshire Labour. 

A sinking school

Siân Caiach told councillors that she had sent the Director of Education a number of questions about the new school planned for Stradey. Apparently it has emerged that the land is unstable, and she wanted to know what additional costs would be incurred.

The Chief Executive intervened and said she should wait for Mr Sully's reply.

The meeting seemed to be drawing to a close, and so Cneifiwr headed for the exit, but while waiting to be released, voices were raised in anger back in the chamber. Whatever it was, we shall never know unless the Carmarthen Journal dares tell us.

Two friendly guards escorted me towards the exit, and I told them, truthfully, that nobody was left in the public gallery.

Well if there is anyone left hiding up there, it will be a pretty grisly end, one of them joked. With a month to go before the next meeting, the chances of survival would be slim indeed.

We all agreed that of all places you might want to die in, the public gallery in County Hall would be very low on the list.


Caebrwyn has discovered the reason for the shouting - see Sewers and Fisticuffs (Almost).

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