Leafing through the electronic pages of the South Wales Guardian yesterday in the wake of the news that Carmarthenshire County Council is once again bullying the local press, my eye was caught by an exclusive (here) revealing that council leader Kevin Madge has decided to hold a meeting of the council's Executive Board in Ammanford Town Hall on 30 July.
This is the first time this august body will have met outside the confines of County Hall in Carmarthen, and Kev says he wants to show us all that he "means business".
The Guardian was quite taken with the idea, and ran an editorial praising the decision. This is not a rabid, council-bashing newspaper by any stretch of the imagination, so the council's decision to withdraw advertising when the paper stepped ever so slightly out of line and criticised the management of a regeneration project is even more remarkable and worrying.
In its editorial, the paper says that critics will complain that nothing much has changed on the council,
"But the fact a Garnant-based councillor is now at the helm really
should make a difference as far as the Amman Valley is concerned.
And it refers, in a slightly cheeky way, to the pork barrel politics of local government,
Just look at the amenities the home villages of past leaders now enjoy!"
But back to the meeting of the Executive Board.
In recent years, beginning I think with Gordon Brown, the British government has hit the road several times and held cabinet meetings in places such as Birmingham and Manchester as part of a PR exercise to try to convince voters that the government is aware that there may be life outside the M25.
Whatever else Kev is, nobody has ever accused him of being an original thinker, and it is pretty obvious where he got this idea. As for "meaning business", any Ammanford residents intending to go to the meeting will be bitterly disappointed if they are expecting lively discussion and debate of the issues that matter to them.
The fact is that there are two meetings of the Executive Board. The first is held in private, with the public and press excluded. This is where decisions are made.
The second, which is what the people of Ammanford will see, is purely a Soviet-style PR exercise. Little speeches will be made (or in the case of Kevin Madge, interminable, waffling and meaningless monologues) in praise of the administration and its supreme wisdom in all matters. And every item will be approved UNANIMOUSLY (the minutes of these meetings like capital letters).
If everyone turns up, the public will see 10 executive councillors, most of whom will be entitled to free bus passes, and up to 15 assorted officers, most of whom will remain silent throughout. For reasons Cneifiwr has never understood, quite a high proportion of the male officers favour shaved and polished heads. Perhaps it's a local government fashion.
Unless there is a dramatic departure from tradition, any locals hoping to ask impromptu questions of their leaders will also be disappointed, although under the constitution they may submit written questions at least seven working days beforehand to the Chief Executive, who will decide whether the questions are appropriate. Questions which are similar to any question asked in a council meeting in the previous six months will be rejected, and questioners must state which member of the Executive Board they wish to answer their query.
No questions, then.
If it is anything like County Hall, members of the public will also be asked to provide their names and addresses and sign declarations that they will not film or otherwise record any part of the meeting.
For the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers like to say, and to avoid disappointment, the council's away-day is entirely separate from the Amman Valley Big Day Out, billed by the South Wales Guardian as a "feast of fun and frolics".
I would hate to take the wind out of Kev's billowing sails but the Executive Board decamped to Llanelli Town Hall for a meeting in March, so it's not the first time. The only surprise is that it was never held in Trimsaran ;)
County Hall should have been moved around 20 years ago. If my memory serves me it was going to go to Cross Hands and a nice new building built.
Why is it just about every other authority either has a new building or is getting one.
Dyfed County Council rightly shelved plans to build a new county hall at Pensarn in the early 1990's. Eventually Safeways, Halfords and the rest built there instead.
Don't encourage this lot to build a new county hall. We have had enough unwanted and/or unaffordable new buildings built in the name of "Regeneration" already.
And did you know... CCC has committed £1/4million per year for the next 20 years of OUR money to the developer of Llanelli's East Gate if they are unable to fill the office space in that development.
However, rather than do that it is likely that CCC will instead close existing council buildings and pay rent to fill those new ones instead. Value for money? I'm sure Sir Gar PR is already writing the positive spin for that one...
That last comment bears out what I have heard too. A friend asked a senior officer what would happen if the office space, as is quite likely, did not find tenants. "Simple", came the reply, "the council will take it on".
Kev & Co should be encouraged to hold their Cabinet Meetings in other locations more often and drag their officers and themselves out to St Clears , Whitland , Newcastle Emplyn , Llandeilo and even to Llandovery to see that the county does not revolve around the " Bermuda Triangle of Llanelli & Carmarthen "
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