Saturday 9 June 2012

Empty gestures - Carmarthenshire's new council starts as it means to go on

Carwyn Jones came in for a lot of criticism for his very leisurely approach to forming a new administration after the Assembly elections in May last year; it was not until towards the end of September that he got around to announcing a programme for his government, and the programme itself was devoid of specific targets.

The new Labour-Independent administration in Carmarthenshire seems to have decided to follow Carwyn's lethargic lead, and has so far managed only to appoint an Executive Board and the various committees and vote on a couple of discretionary allowances.

The decision on allowances has not got the new council off to a good start, as it manages to combine empty gesture politics with a new policy that undermines the new leadership's claims to want to help rural areas of the county.

Travel allowances for duties carried out by councillors in their wards have been abolished, as has the right to claim for postage and telephone costs relating to councillors' duties.

If you are a councillor in an urban area, this will make little difference, but for those who represent rural areas with countless scattered farms and houses, often without access to the Internet, you will now be expected to pay out of your own pocket all thanks to a proposal made by Councillor Pam Palmer, who has been given the job of looking after rural communities on the governing Executive Board.

Ironic, isn't it?

If your councillor is both rich and public spirited enough to fork out of their own funds, this will not matter, but it raises new barriers to deter people who are not independently wealthy from becoming councillors. If you are unlucky enough to have a rich but mean councillor, lower your expectations now.

Needless to say, this point escaped our new leader, Kevin Madge, who went on to praise a new statutory carers' allowance for councillors.

The new allowance is designed to help councillors meet the cost of providing care for children and other dependents while they carry out their duties. Kev said,

“If we want people from all walks of life to become councillors, then we have got to help them to be here and to carry out their duties.”

Looking round the chamber it is unlikely that many (or any) will be making claims for childcare, although perhaps some of the elderly male members may now reveal that they have fathered flocks of love-children with nubile women young enough to be their great-granddaughters.

Rather more likely, we will find that these new allowances go towards caring for the elderly spouses of councillors who have so far managed perfectly well without them.

Plus ca change.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, decisions over Councillor allowances are made by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and the Council vote was simply a rubber-stamping exercise.

Cneifiwr said...

I think that travel, postage and telephone expenses are the only ones in which the council has any discretion.

Mrs Angry said...

Oh dear: your second but last paragraph made me laugh, Cneifiwr, for all the wrong reasons. Funny that this allowance is available, but not the more likely expenses incurred in the course of duties.