Saturday 15 December 2012

December Council Meeting - Part Three: Toilets and Turkeys

After the manipulated farce of the vote on recording, we were treated next to the annual report of the chairman of the Standards Committee, A mercifully brief summary was delivered in a very upper crust English accent. After intensive investigation and analysis, he found that everything was tickety-boo.

Apart from Pam Palmer, the Independent councillors rarely have much to say for themselves. In fact in over a year of attending council meetings Cneifiwr has yet to hear some of them say anything at all, which makes their concerns about being quoted out of context even odder. But veteran Independent Tom Theophilus broke cover to complain that councillors who were accused of breaches of the code of conduct were not compensated for the hours spent defending themselves. He would like to bill the taxpayer for all this hard work, presumably because as an 80 year-old, he could have spent this time earning money in different ways.

Cllr Theophilus regularly tops the league of expenses claimants. Just saying.

Next up was a brief discussion about the ban on open-air drinking in the centre of Llanelli. There was widespread support for this measure, but Peter Hughes Griffiths said that licensing policy was out of control. Anyone who wanted a licence seemed to be able to obtain one. Winston Lemon (Plaid) said that cheap alcohol from supermarkets was a major factor.

The chief executive took the opportunity to advertise the new East Gate "shoppertainment" zone, and added that licensing was a matter for the licensing committee.

From drink we turned to another vice, namely gambling. Pam Palmer wanted to send more letters to everyone and anyone complaining about advertising for betting and gambling, and she is certainly right to be worried. A pity then that she can do nothing about it.

Next came a debate on public transport and bus services. As Executive Board member for rural affairs, this is a key issue for Pam Palmer, and unlike advertising by betting firms, it is something she has some control over. Needless to say, she remained silent throughout.

The long and the short of it is that the Welsh government is creating regional transport consortia which will take responsibility away from councils, and huge cutbacks in public funding are in the pipeline. Cllr Colin Evans, who has executive board responsibility, spoke at great length and kept referring, presumably as a convinced Royalist, to Wales as the "Principality". No doubt he had been busy tugging his forelock in preparation for a visit this week by Charles Windsor.

After all that time on the buses, we now took a very extended comfort break in the council's public toilets. Readers of the blogs will remember that this subject has come up several times over the last year, with the Executive Board ejecting press and public each time it approves a new masterplan to persuade community councils to take over the running of the top secret loos.

Once again the spin doctors have been at work. In the most recent Executive Board minutes on the subject, readers are given the impression that there is a popular clamour for a change, and to meet demand from someone (we are not told who), the county council has increased the number of toilets it wants to get rid of.

Cllr Colin Evans was off again with another long-winded explanation of what lay in store for the toilets in this part of the "Principality". Apparently the list of toilets to be offered up for transfer had been increased in response to representations about discrimination. It was unfair that toilets in what he described as "so-called" tourist destinations should be excluded. He claimed that the county council had received a "very encouraging response".

This claim was immediately undermined by Cllr Hazel Evans (Plaid) who pointed out that in her ward Cenarth Community Council was being asked to take on the public toilets near the Cenarth Falls at an annual cost of £4,000. The council's entire precept was just £8,000. Moreover, the county council was trying to shuffle off liability for any future redundancy costs by transferring cleaning staff along with the toilets.

If you need to go to the toilet in Carmarthenshire, hurry. The whole lot will be shut down from April in time for the new tourist season.

In the middle of all this we had a brief diversion as councillors asked about a car parking scheme being promoted by the Llanelli Star. This was a newspaper initiative, said Colin Evans, and outside council control. He let it slip, however, that the council had written to other newspapers inviting them to participate.

A little later the subject came up again in conjunction with the South Wales Guardian, and Glynog Davies (Plaid) asked about the headline in the newspaper that day saying that it had been blacklisted by the County Council.

Mark James replied that the council was not responsible for the voucher scheme, and that a debate about the Guardian could be had another time.

Very odd, then, that later the same day the County Council should issue a blistering attack on the South Wales Guardian in which the following sentences appear:

We have even agreed to work with them this Christmas on a free parking initiative which will be promoted via their newspaper. A large part of the reason for this is to help local newspapers with their circulation, as well as shoppers and local traders by boosting trade.

County councillors may well be wondering if the Executive was being entirely truthful when it claimed the scheme had nothing to do with the council.

Winston Lemon (Plaid) asked what, if anything, was happening to plans for a new school at Seaside in Llanelli. The Director of Education, Robert Sully, was about to reply, when he was swept aside by the chief executive, who once again blamed the delay and slippage on the locals for disagreeing with the council's choice of site for the new school.

For a moment it seemed that we had moved on from the issue of the toilets, but speaker after speaker came back to express concern. The mystery of all those "very positive" responses that Colin Evans had received grew.

Whether the Unison protesters were still outside County Hall, I don't know, but at last the issue of a living wage was raised. Peter Hughes Griffiths noted that the response by the Executive Board had been extremely disappointing (Kevin Madge had been too busy to attend that meeting).

Kevin Madge said (a verbatim quote this), "Yeah, in the real world we'd like to take this forward. But we're not in the real world". It was all the fault of government spending cuts. Where was the council supposed to get the money to fund this? Many questions remained to be answered, and he therefore wanted to wait to see what the Welsh Assembly had to say and for a report to come back. He was opposed to pursuing what could turn out to be a "reckless policy".

That would presumably be the same reckless policy being advocated by Ed Milliband and the rest of the Labour Party.

By this time the Chair was beginning to fret. We were nearly three hours into the meeting, and were still on the first page of the agenda. Councillors would have to decide whether to adjourn the meeting and return at 2 o'clock or simply pass the huge stack of reports awaiting approval without any further discussion.

The public gallery was now down to two people, and Cneifiwr was losing the will to live.

We will have to wait a couple of weeks for the minutes to discover whether scrutiny of the Executive's decisions won out over the prospect of a long turkey dinner.

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