Wednesday 10 October 2012

October Council Meeting - Part 2: The Death Throes

The council's Annual Report and Improvement Plan is a huge document, full of jargon, riduculous claims and silly pictures. It has smiley faces, and Key Improvement Objective Priorities are illustrated with a picture of a key. It tells us the story (mentioned on this blog before) of Mr Davies and his socks, and has headings such as "Carmarthenshire has a stronger and more prosperous economy".

Kevin Madge rose to give us a rendition of his standard speech:

These were tough times....this report was making a difference....he would like to thank the officers.....etc., etc.

The other 21 lesser councils in Wales would love to have a report like this......modernising council homes...investment in schools.....a wonderful report from Estyn....and a commitment to Regeneration and jobs, jobs, jobs.

Pensioners were flocking from Bridgend to go shopping in Carmarthen...... There was an exciting new cinema in Llanelli about to open......other councils needed to look at what Carmarthenshire was doing..... We are creating jobs, jobs, jobs, and the report showed that 82% of people in the county were satisfied with the Council....thanks to the officers.....thanks to Meryl.....further cuts....more to come.....we're making a difference.

As if this was not all wonderful enough,  Dave Gilbert, the surly looking Director of Regeneration and second highest paid senior officer, was off to Windsor Castle tomorrow to receive his OBE.

The mention of this fantasy bauble for a non-existent empire suitably rounded off Kev's ramble through fantasy land. In truth, the Estyn report was not that wonderful, and the Estyn reports for some individual schools in the county were distinctly unwonderful. Carmarthenshire children also performed less well in their GCSEs than their peers in all of the surrounding local authorities.

As for the jobs which the council claims it has created, Cllr Caiach pointed out that the council was busy cutting jobs. The 82% satisfaction rating is about as realistic as the claims of electoral success made by tinpot dictators in various developing countries.

All of this was a bit too much for some councillors to stomach. There were claims and promises made which could never, ever be fulfilled, several pointed out. Some councillors complained that there was no need for all of the glossy pictures and silly symbols. The Chief Executive replied that councillors had been provided with black and white copies to save money. Cllr Caiach pointed out that this meant that many of the images, graphs, etc. were illegible as a result. Others complained about the jargon, and the Chair complained that no Welsh version of the document was available.

The Chief Executive seemed a little exasperated, and in a rare moment of candour, he told councillors that these reports were meant for the Welsh Government who wanted to see things presented in this way. The Annual Report and Improvement Plan was not meant for public consumption, and it was really just ticking boxes.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The Chair decided to break the report up into sections, and tackle them one by one. First up was "Making Better Use of Resources and Building a Better Council".

Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) rose and said that one way the council could make better use of resources was to stop the misuse of its press office, and he began to talk about the infamous Sainsbury's press release.

Several Labour members kicked up a kerfuffle, including Tegwen Devichand, Calum Higgins and Sharen Davies who felt, apparently, that they needed to declare an interest and so would have to leave the chamber.

It was not made clear what the nature of their interest was. Ownership of a Sainsbury's Nectar Card? Are they on Sainsbury's payroll? Is young Calum stacking shelves part-time, along with being a part-time councillor, part-time student and part-time assistant to Keith Davies AM? We may never know. The Labour Party is certainly on Sainsbury's payroll, since Lord Sainsbury is one of its biggest donors.

The acting Head of Law intervened for the first time to deliver what was clearly the agreed official line for today's meeting. There were strict rules regarding the agenda, she intoned, and these were there for the sake of the public who needed to know whether or not they wished to attend a meeting.

Credulity snapped like knicker elastic. The public gallery is sparsely populated by the same old lags every month, as the acting Head of Law knows perfectly well. Not least since she played a large part in the introduction of the daft new entry procedures designed to scare off any nosey members of the public from trying to observe a meeting.

The first of many consultations between the Chair, the Chief Executive and the acting Head of Law got underway. The considered verdict was that this was not on the agenda, so could not be discussed.

Cllr Price gamely tried to explain that he was talking about council resources, and he tried to introduce a motion without notice under the provisions of the constitution.

The Chief Executive began shaking his head. The Chair had the authority to decide, he opined. This was a clever attempt to introduce something that was not on the agenda, he added.

This continued for several more minutes, with Cllr Price trying to read out his emergency motion, and the Chief Executive, the acting Head of Law and Labour's Keri Thomas making sure that he could not.

The Chair eventually had to give up and say that the Monitoring Officer (aka the acting Head of Law) had said no, and that was that.

On we ploughed, with Cllr Gareth Thomas (Plaid) asking a good question about the council's plans for new schools. As quite a lot of us suspected, the banding of schools by priority means that schools not in the first wave of new projects will have to wait a very, very long time indeed before the Council gets round to doing anything about them. There is nothing left in the kitty.

Cllr Linda Thomas pointed out some of the ludicrous commitments and promises, such as improving the emotional well-being of all people.

The deputy chief executive said that these commitments did not come from the council, but from its shared partnerships. It was all about inclusivity, really.

So that's all right then.

Cllr Winston Lemon complained about a recent jamboree down in Llanelli to mark the beginning of the council's programme of building new homes. Work had commenced by demolishing some older houses, and a ministerial posse had come down from Cardiff and been joined by a load of other hangers-on, including Pam Palmer, deputy leader of the council responsible for rural affairs.

Llanelli is not known for its rural charms.

Pam was not having any of this. "While you may think it was a waste of time, I think it was very beneficial," she snarled. Dr James agreed.

For a very interesting insight into Cllr Lemon's reasons for raising this issue, go to Caebrwyn's blog here and read the lengthy comment below the post.

Pam was back in action soon afterwards when Emlyn Dole (Plaid) asked her a question about TAN6 (government advice on planning for homes in open countryside for farm workers, etc.). Pam, in her role as executive member for rural affairs, said she did not know why he was asking her, as planning was not her brief.

By this stage, we had reached the section of the report dealing with the environment.

Cllr Caiach rose again to make a point about pollution of the Burry Inlet (sewage from the overloaded waste water system of Llanelli poisoning the cockle beds).

She was promptly cut short. The Burry Inlet was not mentioned on the agenda, and so could not be discussed.

Cllr Caiach tried to point out that her point was about the environment.

No. The policy had now been established that councillors could only talk about something if it was mentioned specifically in the agenda.

Since the Chief Executive appears to be very keen to avoid discussion of the pollution problems and the exacerbation of those problems which will result from the council's plans to build hundreds of new houses in the area, the Burry Inlet will never make it onto the agenda.

Still to come: the pillow is put to final use.


Anonymous said...

Some labour members are members of the co-operative and have to declare an interest in the sainsbury's row as there are competition implications on the cooperative in Crosshands and llandeilo.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Somwhat off topic, Cneifiwr.

The Dark Lord has an LLM, a DPA and a DCA. The Masters of Laws I can understand, but the other 2 are a mystery.

All I could get on Google was Diploma of Pastry Arts and Diploma of Culinary Arts. Who knew!?