In a nutshell, the top brass would like to stop the practice of putting committee minutes before the full council and fill the vacuum with Powerpoint presentations by visiting company executives and other external bodies. Increasing use is also being made of the chief executive's powers to veto motions or divert them away from councillors to the Executive Board. This has happened twice this month, with a motion calling for a debate on the Scarlets bailout being vetoed, and another motion on the bedroom tax being diverted to the Executive Board which dispatched it on Monday. More on that in a moment.
At last week's meeting the acting Head of Law took Cllr Darren Price to task for thinking that the full council was, in her words, "a super scrutiny committee", i.e. with the right to hold the executive to account.
Because of constant tampering with the constitution over the last few years, the much-amended document can be read to support almost any argument, but of course the only arguments which count are those made by the executive. There are certainly some key passages of the constitution which entirely contradict the line being taken by Mrs Rees Jones and the chief executive.
This is by far the most serious assault on democracy in Carmarthenshire to date, and there will be at least some backbench Labour councillors who feel uneasy about what is happening, not least because there will come a time when Labour finds itself in opposition and on the receiving end of the measures it has waved through.
The latest motion to be diverted away from the full council was a Motion on Notice submitted by Cllr Alun Lenny, calling on the council to follow the lead taken by some other councils, such as Brighton, and halt evictions of tenants who fall foul of the bedroom tax.
Labour has promised to scrap the measure if it comes back to power in 2015, and it could well have won a vote on the matter in the House of Commons last week if 40+ of its MPs had not decided to stay at home. All the Plaid, SNP and Green MPs voted for the Labour motion, which was defeated by just 26 votes.
Back in Carmarthenshire both Kevin Madge and his deputy Tegwen Devichand (responsible for housing) have both stood in the chamber to deplore the bedroom tax on several occasions recently. Here was a chance for them to do something about it.
Brighton, an authority which is roughly the same size as Carmarthenshire in terms of population, has set aside just £70,000 to fund its no evictions policy over the next year. Set against what Carmarthenshire spends on consultants and QCs, that is small beer, and as Cllr Lenny has pointed out, the cost of evictions and having to re-house people made homeless because of the change will be much higher.
Normally in a democratic institution motions are debated, with the proposers speaking in favour. Not in Carmarthenshire, where the Executive Board decided not to allow anyone else to speak.
The motion was dealt with in five minutes, with nobody speaking in favour of a non-evictions policy, and Tegwen Devichand wielding the axe.
For its part the council says that it is assessing people on a case-by-case basis, but the problem is one which is likely to affect tenants across the county. A proper discussion in the council chamber in front of the cameras should not be a problem, unless the Labour leadership is trying to keep the issue away from its backbench councillors and out of the public eye.
A five minute hatchet job in a meeting which is not filmed, on a Monday morning when very few observers could have been present is simply not acceptable.
Speaking after the Executive Board meeting, Cllr Lenny said,
“A large number of councils across the UK have already introduced a no eviction policy for tenants who genuinely cannot pay their rent due to this nasty little tax. But the Labour-Independent regime in Carmarthenshire obviously care little for tenants who fear the heartbreak of being evicted from their homes. They also seemed unaware that covering families’ rent shortfall and using Discretionary Housing Payments would be more economical than evicting and relocating families. So it’s a blow to taxpayers as well.
“It’s also disappointing that the Plaid Cymru motion was not debated in Full Council, but referred to the so-called Socialists and closet Tories on the Executive Board – with predictable results. We had a lot of crocodile tears at today’s meeting, but no action to protect tenants who may face losing their homes in the run-up to Christmas.”