Friday 1 March 2013

Election expenses - help yourself!

Thanks to Freedom of Information requests submitted by Plaid Cymru (press release here) we now know that Carmarthenshire County Council is not sure how much it paid its chief executive in expenses in his capacity as returning officer or when exactly the money was paid, although it is clear that substantial amounts of money were paid well before the elections actually took place.

Unlike the other 21 Welsh councils contacted by Plaid, Carmarthenshire said that it did not hold information on when the expenses were paid, and it provided information on the amounts paid which conflicted with answers previously given.

Readers may recall that the council was not able to provide answers on how much it really spends on its propaganda sheet, the Carmarthenshire News, and was unable to say how much it spent on advertising in its own rag.

In the case of the returning officer's expenses, Carmarthenshire would also seem to be unique in giving its chief executive discretion to pay himself expenses when and as he sees fit.

More confirmation that the council works like a private fiefdom, with no proper accounting in place for how and when it spends money, and the sort of corporate governance controls which are reminiscent of the financial arrangements enjoyed by the late Robert Maxwell.

As with so much else in Carmarthenshire County Council, there is a complete lack of transparency when it comes to returning officer expenses. These are substantial amounts of money paid out of different pots, and it seems that nobody, apart from the chief executive himself is entirely sure how much he gets or when it is paid. Indeed, in the case of council funded elections, the council has confirmed that he can pay himself whenever he likes.

Earlier this week the council announced that finally it will be going ahead with a pilot to broadcast meetings of the full council, although not it seems any of the other committee meetings or meetings of the governing Executive Board.

At least that is a very belated step in the right direction, but before we get too excited, it is worth remembering that the council makes very extensive use of powers under the Local Government Act 1972 to exclude press and public from meetings.

Recently there have been more secret meetings about the council's public toilets which the authority is trying to palm off onto community councils. No private sector interests are involved.

At a meeting of the Planning Committee on 31 January, press and public were excluded from a discussion of the ombudsman's report on the Breckman case (or rather a watered down version of the ombudsman's report). The council justified this by saying that it wanted to protect the identity of those involved, even though everybody knows who was involved, and Mrs Breckman wrote to the council asking for the meeting to be held in public.

On Monday, 4 March,  the Executive Board will be considering a further two "exempted" items in secret. Those relate to the Elli Theatre in Llanelli, which the council would very much like to get rid of, and a mysterious entry relating to "land to the rear of the former St Ivel building" in Johnstown.

The St Ivel building is the property which the council bought and then agreed to gift to Towy Community Church for 99 years for its bowling alley, "therapy" rooms and new church/auditorium. Effectively, the entire project is being financed by the tax payer, and yet tax payers are not allowed to know what is happening to their assets and money.

So much for Kevin Madge's commitment to transparency.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They go on and on and on...digging an even bigger hole, but never bury themselves. Why......because they are protected by the Welsh Assembly Ministers who should have a duty to intervene over serious abuses, but never do. The confidence they exude in blatant malpractices is testament to that.