Thursday 11 October 2012

October Council Meeting - Part 3: The pillow is administered

Discussion of the Council's Annual Report and Improvement Plan continued, with attention next turning to the Welsh language.

The language comes towards the end of the mammoth document, and merits 8 lines. Several councillors contrasted the high-flown claims, "Ensuring the Promotion of the Welsh Language and Welsh Culture", with the reality that the council is cutting its meagre financial support to the Mentrau Iaith, which will see their budgets halved over 5 years to save £50,000 per year.

The deputy chief executive, Chris Burns, fielded the questions. In English, naturally.

At the end of the document is a section headed "You said"....."We listened". On the subject of Welsh it tells us that people asked for more Welsh signage and more material on the council's website in Welsh.

The "evidence" that the council listened is, it says, that it provides translations "where necessary". Not the same thing at all. Burns went on to claim that the Welsh and English versions of the website are "pretty much the same". He obviously has not looked.

Cllr Emlyn Dole raised the question of Language Impact Assessments in planning applications, and pointed out that the methodology used was far from perfect.

Meryl Gravell intervened to say that "many changes were coming", and she promised to add this to the list of subjects to be covered in a seminar.

What she did not explain was that planning controls are being relaxed already and are due to be relaxed even further. Whatever small consideration was given to the language is likely to be reduced to vanishing point.

Burns reminded councillors that the report they were considering was in draft and subject to their approval.

Siân Caiach seized on this to highlight once again the claim that the council is somehow making Carmarthenshire more prosperous. More prosperous than what? More prosperous than last year? Clearly not. While the report was boasting about creating jobs, the council was actually cutting them.

And since this was a draft report, she wanted a reference to be included to the pollution of the Burry Inlet.

Naturally this attempt was immediately stamped on because it was not on the agenda. Councillors may no longer make proposals which have not been included in the agenda as worded and supplied by the Chief Executive.

Dr James decided to take a swipe at the Llanelli councillor. Cllr Caiach was walking round with her eyes shut, he said. She should take a look at the St Catherine's Walk shopping centre and the county's schools. She was putting the council down at every opportunity and being disingenuous.

Cllr Caiach was denied a right of reply.

Peter Hughes Griffiths (Plaid) highlighted once again the contrast between the claims being made about the Welsh language and the reality of the cuts to the Mentrau budgets. This was dishonest.

Kevin Madge rose to reply, and made it clear that the language was further down on his list of priorities than it is even in the Annual Report and Improvement Plan. We cannot hold these budgets for much longer, he said, and blamed everything on George Osborne.

Later, somebody looking very much like Kev left the meeting and sped off in a Jaguar, probably the same Jag that appeared on a recently published list of vehicles owned by the council. Recently he had the Council order a second Mercedes so that he does not have to share the official limousine with the Chair. He also fully supports the Chief Executive's hugely costly libel actions and the gifting of £1.4 million to Towy Community Church's bowling alley.

Osborne may be a disaster, but sometimes we need to look a little closer to home.

Slowly the meeting was winding down. The Chair said that she just wanted to crawl back to bed.

Wind turbines briefly featured, and Labour's Keri Thomas said he quite liked them.

Finally, we reached the section of the agenda headed,


Cllr Darren Price made another attempt to raise the issue of the Sainsbury's press release, but was immediately interrupted by the Chief Executive who told him that this section of the agenda was not "Any Other Business", but was at the discretion of the Chair. Moreover the Chair had to be advised in advance of any urgent business.

Cllr Price responded that there was no such provision in the Constitution, and the acting Head of Law began furiously leafing through the document.

There appear to be several versions of the Constitution. One of them is available for public inspection on the council's website, but key parts of it seem not to have been updated for a while. Last year, for example, the council introduced a new rule stipulating that anyone giving notice of a motion had to have the support of seven other councillors. This effectively gagged the minority parties. The public version does not contain this new clause nor any of the other changes railroaded through earlier this year limiting the powers of the scrutiny committees.

Cllr Price was probably relying on the more complete version, but there also appears to be a third version of the Constitution not published anywhere.

This is the version which bans filming and prevents councillors from discussing matters which are not spelled out in the agenda. It also appears to have been the version which was used yesterday to rule that urgent matters had to be notified in advance of a meeting. The very same version appears to have been used to reject Plaid's motion on the Sainsbury's press release on the grounds that it was not correctly dated, even though the published version says that the Chief Executive will keep a log of motions submitted together with the time and date they were submitted.

While this tussle was going on, Cllr Tegwen Devichand rose to criticise the young Plaid councillor. What he was doing was very disrespectful to the Chair, she said, although to just about everybody else it was patently obvious that it was the Chief Executive and Kevin Madge who had put the Chair into such a dire position.

Moments before the end, the Chief Executive said that the Chair could overrule the officers if she wanted to, in the tone of voice which suggested that she should do anything but overrule him.

Caught in the headlights, the Chair announced that she had been told to close the meeting.

Last month councillors were reprimanded during a debate on the case of Mr M, the disabled man whose complaint to the Ombudsman was upheld. The Council's official line was that all of the problems and issues had been dealt with, but councillor after councillor rose with examples of people they knew who were having similar difficulties with the local authority. Back then the Chief Executive told them that they were raising ward matters, and these should not be brought up in public meetings.

Now councillors appear to have been banned from raising any matter which is not written down on the Chief Executive's agenda.

They have also learned that there are any number of rules, including some unpublished ones, which can be used to prevent motions from being heard or discussed.

But at least the public will be reassured that all this is for our own good, and that when we read a published agenda we know what is going to be discussed. Just like the Executive Board meeting in January this year which approved the libel case against Jacqui Thompson. Only, come to think of it,  that wasn't on the published agenda, was it?

Finally it was sad to note that the press benches were very nearly empty. The BBC had unusually sent along a reporter, but only one lone newspaper journalist was scribbling away. Perhaps the Carmarthen Journal will be getting its copy straight from the Press Office.


towy71 said...

Thank you for a good report on the council's "public" meeting, it is probably better than the the minutes will be whenever they appear

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't so would be quite amusing.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, isn't it time to kill off the language? If no-one is willing to pay for it, why do we need it?

Bilingual we are and bilingual we must be. Yes, some of the old have a problem expressing themselves in English but, luckily, these folk are dying out at an alarmingly frightening pace (poor Welsh NHS I suspect) and so the need for the ridiculous dual language policy is disappearing fast!

Cneifiwr said...

I suspect that that last comment was an attempt to play devil's advocate. No, it's not time and I hope it never will be.

Anonymous said...

Dont worry so much - read the latest press release on CCC site. We will soon be able to go bowling courtesy of Mercy Ministries (and the ratepayer of Carms) Dont fret about the language, when you get stressed go to the new MECCA (arghh has nobody in CCC got any sense ?) for some "therapy". LOL not.