One of the many good things about Carmarthenshire's decision to pilot the filming of council meetings is that everyone can see for themselves how low the council has sunk and who is really running the show.
Yesterday's meeting is by no means the first example of its kind, but previously you had to go in person to witness the utter contempt shown by senior officers and their willing accomplices in the chamber for the democratic process. Councillors have been gagged for a long time now, and anyone who is openly critical can be expected to be belittled. Not for the first time, they were also sent packing by the unelected chief executive.
Below is the text of a press release issued by Plaid Cymru calling on the Welsh Government to sit up and take notice. Don't hold your breath in the expectation that the wise monkeys in Cardiff Bay will do anything, however.
As Caebrwyn noticed yesterday, the next step will be for the council to pull the plugs on filming, and they have already inserted a little warning in the introductory speech given by the Chair that the council reserves the right to stop the cameras.
The Welsh Government Minister for Local Government has been asked to intervene in the way in which Carmarthenshire County Council undertakes its proceedings.
Noting what he considers to be a ‘democratic deficit’ in County Hall, Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas has called on the Welsh Government to examine the culture in Carmarthenshire Council and how democratically elected councillors are prohibited from raising matters in meetings of the full council.
In this month’s meeting of the full council Plaid Cymru County Councillor for Gorslas ward, Darren Price, proposed to suspend the council’s standing orders to raise a matter. Councillors were invited to vote but Councillor Price was not allowed to ‘make the case’ for his request.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas believes Councillors were not provided accurate information by the authority’s officers and proper processes were not followed as Councillors were told to vote without knowing what they were voting on.
Yesterday's episode in full council follows a series of instances where opposition councillors have been prohibited from raising matters in the Council. Previous attempts to raise matters through the council’s ‘any other business’ equivalent resulted in that agenda item being removed from all future meetings.
Leader of the Plaid Cymru Councillor Group on Carmarthenshire County Council, Peter Hughes Griffiths said it is almost impossible for opposition councillors to have any input into decision making. He also expressed his disappointment that the Leader of the authority, Labour’s Kevin Madge, rejected his request for a statement regarding the on-going legal row with the Wales Audit Office and its claims of “unlawful” payments made on behalf of the Chief Executive, Mark James.
In his letter to the Local Government Minister, AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas has exposed that the Chief Executive has recently proposed changing the format for full council meetings which will remove entirely any opportunity for councillors to scrutinise Executive Board decisions in full council meetings. The Plaid Cymru AM requested the Minister considered placing Carmarthenshire Council into ‘special measures’ until faith in the democratic process had been restored.
Assembly Member for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:
“In the almost fifteen years I have represented Carmarthenshire in the National Assembly I have never known public confidence in the County Council to be so low.
“There appears to be a culture in which decisions are made behind closed doors; with very little opportunity for opposition councillors to challenge or discuss decisions which have been made. The recent revelation surrounding the Chief Executive’s new pension arrangement is a case in point.
“The Council’s constitution has been manipulated over a number of years to concentrate power in the hands of a select group of officers and executive board members. Even when councillors follow the letter of that constitution to raise matters of concern, they immediately find themselves hitting an ‘officer road block’.
“When Councillor Darren Price requested the suspension of standing orders at this week’s full council meeting, I am at a loss to explain why officers advised councillors to vote on the request without knowing what issue they were voting on.
“There is without doubt a democrat deficit in Carmarthenshire. It’s my view that senior officers are working on behalf of the Labour and Independent coalition instead of the council as a whole. The way in which some senior officers provide advice to councillors can only be likened to an officer operating a ‘veto’ on council business. As an elected representative it is my duty to raise these matters with government Ministers.
“I have called on the Welsh government to intervene in the way the County Council conducts its affairs. The people of Carmarthenshire deserve better than the way in which the current administration operates.”
Leader of the Plaid Cymru Councillor Group Peter Hughes Griffiths added:
“The Council is embroiled in a legal battle with the Wales Audit Office over two unlawful payments of around £40,000 involving the Chief Executive.
“But despite my request, it is a deep disappointment that the Labour Leader of the Council has refused to make a statement to the council and explain to us, as elected representatives of Carmarthenshire communities, exactly what the auditor has said and how this impacts on the council.
“It is almost impossible for opposition councillors to have any input into decision making. We are continuously kept in the dark about decisions until they are made. Decisions such as the Chief Executive’s pension arrangement have also been made without members of the public knowing these items were even up for discussion. This sort of practice is potentially unlawful and cannot be allowed to continue.
“Carmarthenshire Council needs an urgent political reboot and a complete change of guard. I therefore fully endorse the steps taken by Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas in requesting Welsh government intervention into the way in which this Labour-Independent council is operating.”