Thursday 12 January 2012

January Council Meeting Part 2 - In which Mark James reads Janet and John

The Chief Constable's pleas for more dosh took up rather more time than anyone had expected, and so the remainder of the business was conducted at a fairly brisk pace. Lunch was waiting down in the canteen.

Education was first up, and Robert Sully, Director of Education, went into action - the only one of the highly paid service heads present who actually got to speak.

Kevin Madge launched into another ramble, this time congratulating the chief executive and the Dear Leader on the Welsh Government's 21st Century Schools Programme. This would create a lot of new jobs, he said, including in construction. Whether Carwyn Jones or Leighton Andrews (Welsh Education Minister) would be quite so generous in giving the credit for their plan to the dynamic duo from Carmarthenshire is another matter.

One elderly Independent council stood to point out that most of the councillors were also school governors, before proceeding to demonstrate why the system of appointing county councillors to school governorships regardless of their abilities is so wrong.

Some of the worst schools he had visited, he said, were over-staffed. It was not clear what he meant by "worst schools", although it seemed to have something to do with upkeep and the state of the paintwork. He had been to schools where the head teachers did not actually teach children, and just look at the state of the buildings. We have to act as governors, he thundered.

Cllr Lemon (Plaid Cymru) asked about plans for a new school at Seaside in Llanelli. What had happened to all of the £16 million promised?

Mark James then showed us why the Private Eye award was so richly deserved.

"I came down there and explained to you all in words of one syllable what would happen if you (you being local councillors, parents and residents) refused to put the school where WE wanted it." Back in the late 1980s, this use of "we" was of course one of the most obvious signs that Margaret Thatcher was losing the plot.

What had happened was that the £16 million had been taken away as a punishment and given to another school.

"Now you will have to wait 5 years at least", he snarled, as Cllr Lemon was sent off to the naughty step.

On his way, Cllr Lemon tried to ask whether the decision had been made by the chief executive or the council. We were never going to find out, because the Chair ordered him to sit down and be quiet.

Next came a question from Cllr Caiach on the proposed Educational Village at Stradey Park. Was this ever going to happen?

Mark James and Robert Sully then played a little game, and you could see the punchline coming from a mile off.

Yes, said Sully, but there had been a few changes.

Would this mean that a new statutory consultation was needed, asked Mark James. The question was of course rhetorical.

Probably not, said Sully.

Good, said James, because then there might be a risk that somebody might object.

All of which just goes to show what Mark James thinks of public consultations and anyone who disagrees with him. Got that, Cllrs Lemon and Caiach?

Next came the bit that the scurrilous bloggers and journalists had been waiting for.

Peter Hughes Griffiths, leader of the Plaid Cymru group and leader of the opposition, stood to complain about the scandalous misuse of the Press Office in the middle of the council's budget consultations to issue an official press release in which the leader of the council and a Labour backbencher had attacked Plaid Cymru and announced a whole series of U-turns on spending cuts.

Back in November the council issued proposals saying it needed to cut £8.5m from the 2012-13 budget, with detailed proposals for how that would be met, along with a 4% increase in council tax.

Suddenly, on 9 January, it was announced that the ruling coalition had decided not to increase the price of school dinners, not to close two museums, not to close two respite homes and to limit cuts to Menter Iaith to 10%, rather than 50%. The announcement went on to say that the aim was to keep the rise in council tax to 2%.

How was all this going to be achieved, and what about a statement by another councillor earlier in the meeting that the council tax rise would be 2.5%? What was the point of consultation? Who was actually running things?

Mark James showed us why he had been awarded a CBE as he began a long lecture on the principles of local government, as you might explain them to a class of 9 year-olds. It was all terribly simple, and in a way it was all a bit like Westminster, with a government and an opposition, he explained.

The administration, or government, had met quite properly, he said, to make decisions (in private, not as a part of any of the officially constituted committees and without any published records).

As for the Press Office, it could not be used to make political statements by groups, but could legitimately be used by representatives of the administration to make its views known. Procedurally, the press release had therefore been in order, he said, neglecting to explain why a person or persons unknown had ordered its removal from the council's website.

This "how many angels can dance on a pin head" argument left everyone baffled, as no doubt was the intention.

The ruling Independent Labour coalition then went on the offensive. Meryl purred that the statement had been issued to stop the staff affected from worrying about job losses. Yeah, right.

Pam Palmer rose to say she was confused. She and others were working up a bid for £3m of grant funding for the County Museum. "Apparently it has historic gardens, whatever." The "whatever" was spat out in a Mockney accent. Pam is a chav, it seems.

Now she was no longer confused, but very, very cross. Peter Hughes Griffiths had been invited to come into the budget discussions, she hissed, but had refused on the basis that he had never been invited in any previous year (and presumably because he could see the trap that Pam, Meryl and the others had tried to set for him).
This made her VERY, VERY angry she shouted, before resuming her seat.

The shouting was now over, and there was a quick ticking off of the remaining agenda items before we were all released into the streets of Carmarthen where, thanks to Dyfed Powys Police, incidents involving gratuitous violence, dishonesty and knife attacks by crazed old women are fortunately much less common than they are in County Hall.

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