Thursday 14 June 2012

Kremlin on the Towy gives itself new powers - Updated

Update: Cneifiwr was unable to go to the meeting where the changes to constitution were discussed, but thanks to Caebrwyn for reporting on it here. In the end the proposal to abolish the right for school transport appeals to be heard by councillors was rejected. Despite the best efforts of the excellent Cllr David Jenkins and Cllr Siân Caiach, the rest of the changes were bulldozed through.


Carmarthenshire County Council met yesterday to approve yet another raft of changes to its constitution. This blog has pointed out on several previous occasions how over the years the council has hacked away at the rules which govern its conduct to remove transparency, reduce democratic accountability to vanishing point and abolish rights of ordinary citizens to a fair hearing.

Some of the changes made in recent years have verged on paranoia. For example, it was found necessary to change the constitution a couple of years ago because one individual had exercised his right to ask the council a question (about food sourcing). The problem was that he lived in a neighbouring county. Clearly that outrageous abuse had to be stopped, and so it was.

The latest set of proposals is long and complex, but here are just a few tasters:

  • Parents who wish to appeal decisions relating to school transport will lose the right for their appeal to be heard by elected councillors. Appeals will in future be heard by officers of the council only (i.e. the people responsible for making the decision which is being appealed).
  • Rulings made by the chair of the council on the application of the Constitution or the proceedings of council meetings may not be challenged. No matter how daft or wrong.
  • More powers to appoint representatives to external bodies will be delegated by councillors to the Executive Board.
  • Members of Scrutiny Committees may request that members of the ruling Executive Board attend their meetings and "assist them". The requirement for members of the Executive to answer questions at such meetings has been dropped.
  • The right of scrutiny committees to call extraordinary meetings either by a decision of the chair or by means of a majority vote is abolished; henceforth, the Chief Executive will have to approve such meetings.
  • Meetings of the full council, committees and the Executive Board will be open to the public and press, subject to the usual restrictions (exempt information). Executive Board Decision Meetings (i.e. not the public rubber-stamping sessions) will however be closed to public and press.
  • The rights of scrutiny committees to propose amendments to the Executive Board and provide advice to the Executive Board on major issues before final decisions are made are also curtailed. In future they may only "contribute" to policy development, etc.
Some other sections of this document have undergone extensive re-drafting, in particular the sections dealing with calling in (i.e. challenging) decisions made by the Executive Board, but the end result is the same. The effect is reminiscent of the sort of fake questionnaire you find on the internet, where no matter what answer you give to a question, the outcome is always the same. Here's how call-ins by scrutiny committees of Executive decisions work:

Scrutiny committees will retain the right to call-in decisions made by the ruling executive if a majority of members votes to call a decision in. The call-in request then has to leap through a number of hoops before it will be considered, and may be vetoed by the Monitoring Officer. If the request somehow manages to survive that process, the committee will be given cooling-off time to reconsider its call-in. They may, possibly under pressure from the whips, realise the error of their ways and drop their call-in. But if all else fails, they may refer the request for a decision to be reconsidered back to the Executive Board. The Executive Board may (racing certainty: will) decide that its decision was correct and reject the call-in. No further call-in is then allowed.

Kafka would love that.

There are myriads of other proposed changes, some of which are required because of changes in government legislation. Others are home-made in Carmarthen, and it may well be that buried away deep in the verbiage there are more nasty land-mines.

The overall drift of the changes is to reduce the powers of elected councillors still further, to reduce the need for the Executive and officers to consult with elected councillors and to curtail both the number and the powers of the scrutiny committees.

All of this vast patchwork quilt of changes was "considered" and approved in rather less time than it would take anyone to read them.

It's what Vladimir Putin calls "managed democracy".


Anonymous said...

It is about time that no finger can be pointed at any Cllr for work done to improve Carmarthenshire.
The world moved on. Archaic methods of working are gone.
Its either work out how the council works or get your assembly member to answer your questions.It is not for a modern council to answer pedantic silly questions
it just gobbles up to much time and its waste of money.
If anybody wants an answer The Welsh Assembly or Westmister is the place to ask.

Cneifiwr said...

Sorry, but that's just wrong. The council is responsible for running lots of services, not the Assembly or Westminster. If you want to ask about refuse collection, libraries, schools, planning issues, social care, etc., etc., then the council is the place to ask.

Anonymous said...

I did write the above comment and your right in saying regarding services its the place to go.

It is at a micro level the place for many things. The shifting sands of time have moved with the tides.
The assembly calls in big planning jobs as it does big Social care changes infact anything out of the norm or a big job goes to the assembly.

I think its case of other bringing jobs to Wales.We have the assmebly
for just this purpose to smooth out the running of local goverment to to take the muck that flies with speading on big fields.

Tessa said...

Where there is authority then there is also responsibility. The Council makes unpopular decisions and wildly ambitious investments, when it has neither the expertise nor the knowledge to do so. Just look at the portfolio of white elephants (Botanic garden, Scarlet Stadium, Church's bowling alley). What is does have, or had, given how much has been wasted already - is our flippin' cash & assets ("reserves"! which could have stood us in good stead over these hard times) to splurge - where private investors and banks have too much good sense to. And they continue unchecked, although thankfully by a couple of brave councillors and bloggers, not unchallenged.

Bethany-Boo said...

That's so funny! ...The interchange of the first 3 comments. Never was there such a picture painted of 'nice'-but-dim landed gents having to deal with the pesky rebellious peasantry in this century (and the last one!) and all in the name of 'modern'isation! ..... Classic:-D, yet so sad/disappointing/troubling also.