Wednesday 7 March 2012

Last chance to see - March council meeting (Part One)

After reading the declaration, giving the council our addresses and signing individual declarations and visitors' slips, four of us were at length escorted up to the public gallery, with one warden in front and another behind.

The council meeting had not yet got underway, and the chief executive was in deep discussion with the council's acting head of law. Perhaps he is planning to sue someone else, who knows?

After the usual rigmarole of the formal procession and prayers (not on the agenda, but a standard feature of all council meetings), we settled down to hear the announcements and apologies. A deputation of councillors had gone to the Welsh Assembly to deliver a petition objecting to proposals to downgrade the Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli, and along with the usual roll-call of the sick, lame and otherwise engaged, this meant that the chamber was half empty.

Unlike the BBC nature series called "Last Chance to See" which is full of cuddly pandas, tigers and cute, furry mammals, this would have been our last chance to see some of the less cute and cuddly specimens which inhabit County Hall before the elections in May. Sad to report, therefore, that we were deprived of the chance to hear Cllr Stephen James spouting opinions fresh from the Daily Mail, but fortunately several regular old monsters had turned up.

There was a brief flicker to remind us of past meetings when Cllr Siân Caiach rose to query the minutes of a meeting of the Executive Board. The minutes in question contained the decision to give chief executive Mark James a blank cheque to go off and pursue his libel case, and because of the quirky rules which govern council meetings, at least in Carmarthenshire, these had been nodded through without comment in February along with a truck load of other matters, in order to prevent the meeting running out of time and being declared void.

The chair, Ivor Jackson, acted immediately to prevent Cllr Caiach from speaking. Once the minutes had been approved, he growled, they could not be re-opened. End of.

As we shall see, Cllr Caiach went on to score a number of bullseyes later in the meeting, and so this month she is Cneifiwr's official Woman of the Match.

The first items on the agenda, which included setting the council tax for 2012-13, the council's redundancy programme and the pay policy for its chief officers, were dispatched within minutes and with barely a murmur. At least we could take comfort from the knowledge that the chief executive's household, where renumeration has been frozen since 2009, must be really struggling to get by on around £200,000, including salary and perks such as exorbitant fees for acting as chief returning officer. Strange, then, that he has not been spotted wheeling a trolley round Lidl.

Next came a lengthy discussion on alcohol abuse, as councillors considered a proposal to try to curb the number of licensed premises in a part of Llanelli.

There was unanimous agreement throughout the chamber that binge drinking by mainly younger people was a major problem. A large number of speakers blamed variously pricing, the supermarkets, alcopops and the last Labour government which relaxed licensing hours and sought to encourage "continental-style" drinking.

Let's face it, the continental cafe culture was never going to take off in Carmarthenshire, and the thought brought to mind Rhod Gilbert's famous rant about al fresco dining in Cardiff.

Along the way we learned that Cllr Pam Palmer never touches the stuff, while Cllr Clive Scourfield, the soon-to-be ex-executive board member for regeneration showed us that he has not set foot in a town centre for a very long time (that could explain some of the projects he has championed) when he launched into a tirade against off licences, which he said had proliferated everywhere. Most people under the age of 40 would not know what an off licence was, of course.

Unlike most speakers, Cllr Scourfield did not mention the role of supermarkets once as the source of cheap booze, but then of course, Cllr Scourfield is very keen on supermarkets, as we know. Others who have championed supermarket developments in the county over the years saw no problem in blaming Tesco et al.

Cllr Anthony Jones, who runs a club, went on the rampage against alcopops. Remember those? Presumably his club does not attract many young people, because if it did he would know that nowadays the "youngsters" prefer "bombs": combinations of stuff like Redbull and Cointreau which are guaranteed to have anyone climbing the walls in minutes. Mrs Cneifiwr drinks nothing else.

Needless to say, Cllr Kevin Madge had to wade in. Even his fellow Labour councillors seemed to cringe as he rose. Off we went on an amble down memory lane, as Kev donned his flairs for a 1970s night out at Top Rank in Swansea. Recently he had been back with his son and "the gang", and had been shocked by what he saw, before he made a quick diversion to talk about the price of petrol. Fortunately he stopped short of advocating Unleaded as a recipe for a hangover.

For anyone considering a night out in Swansea, the thought of bumping into Kev and the lads might make you think twice.

Remedies proposed by various speakers included raising prices, restricting the sale of alcohol so that it could not be sold in shops which sell clothing and food (the respectable matrons who shop at Marks & Spencers would not be impressed), and education.

A more effective one would be to send out Cllr Pam Palmer on Saturday nights. That should clear the pubs, clubs and drinking dens in no time.

However, it was eventually decided to write a letter to the Welsh Government asking them to act, but not before someone had checked to see whether the Welsh Assembly has the power to do anything.

Next up we had the draft Strategic Equality Plan, the council's very belated response to the Equalities Act 2010. Showing how seriously it takes this sort of thing, the council had delegated responsibility for this policy to Cllr Kevin Madge.

After a bit of mumbling from Kev, Cllr Caiach rose to ask what the council was doing to ensure that women might one day also be able to make it to the top and become senior officers.

Arranged before us on the podium were 11 men and two women. One of those women is the current deputy chair of the council (an elected councillor), while the other is the acting head of law, presumably acting until they can find a man with qualifications to take over.

Lips curled at this outrageous slur on the good name of the council, and Meryl rose to purr that the council took equality very seriously and was very supportive of women.

Looking at the motley collection on the podium, a thought struck Cneifiwr. Whoever is responsible for the senior appointments would seem to have a bit of a fetish for men with bald or shaven heads. Perhaps if more women adopted a Sinead O'Connor look circa 1980 they might stand a chance.

Cllr Caiach then turned to the subject of gyspy and traveller communities, suggesting that schools should do more to educate children about them so that they did not have to rely on the prejudiced opinions of many of their parents.

More lips curled. Cllr Gwynne Wooldridge, executive member for education and children's services, rose to say that he had visited a school where children from the gypsy and traveller communities had been successfully "integrated into a specialist unit".

Another Independent councillor rose to cite the example of a village school with 40 children, 20 of whom were from hippy families, and the hippy children were all doing very well.

Both resented Cllr Caiach's suggestion that Carmarthenshire was not doing enough, and both missed the point she had been making.

Next on the agenda was Fairtrade. This was dealt with in a nanosecond. Proposed? Seconded? Yes. Questions? Next!


Anonymous said...

So, it's not only Americans who don't "get" irony.

Anonymous said...

I will miss your satirical take on these council meetings if filming is ever allowed! They couldn't make me laugh nearly as much.......or could they???

Anonymous said...

I ve known Sian Ciaich for more than thirty years. If she says its so it probably is.Its a great shame shes no longer in Plaid thanks to the idiotic non entities who ran it up to recently.