Tuesday 11 June 2013

A very peculiar kind of democracy

The second meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council to be filmed and broadcast live to anyone interested will take place on 12 June, beginning at 10 a.m.

The council will no doubt make much of this experiment as evidence of its commitment to local democracy and transparency, but anyone who takes a closer look will see that this is a democracy like no other.

Take the agenda (here) which ends abruptly at point 12, "Membership of the Corporate Governance Group". Unlike any other public meeting there is no "Any Other Business".

Meetings of the full council used to have AOB as the final agenda item until a councillor rashly tried to raise a point under AOB at the back end of last year. His attempt failed, with the Chief Executive ordering that the meeting be brought to a close.

Since then AOB has been absent from the agenda, which is drawn up by the chief executive.

Although the council's standing orders make it clear that councillors may raise issues under AOB, the absence of AOB means they cannot. Only items submitted by the chief executive may be discussed, and conversely items which he does not want discussed are not allowed because there is no space for them on the agenda.

Carmarthenshire is almost certainly the only council in Britain not to have AOB on the agenda.


Anonymous said...

"Carmarthenshire is almost certainly the only council in Britain not to have AOB on the agenda."

Definitely not the case. In recent years councils have increasingly tended to avoid AOB as it gave an opportunity for councillors to raise just about anything without warning. This meant that important decisions could be sprung on a meeting without the public, press or opposition councillors being given notice. In the wrong hands AOB is open to abuse and can severely compromise transparency and democracy.

Anonymous said...

Oh come off it. You sound desperate to attack CCC. You can't just allow any and all Councillors to stand up and speak at length - 74 Councillors 5 minutes each = 6 hours + of waffle.

Anonymous said...

@Anons 23.26 and 23.33
AOB has always been on the agenda and has been used responsibly. It is only in recent months, and with the prospect of live streaming, that it has been dropped.
As Cneifiwr says, it is the Chief Executive who controls the agenda, and the meetings for that matter. Potentially embarrassing issues such as misuse of the press office, ombudsman reports and press freedom have been deliberately and inappropriately omitted from the agenda; dropping AOB was another tactic to avoid discussion in the presence of the public and the press.

Cneifiwr said...

I'm afraid both of those comments are disingenuous. AOB was very rarely used, and it was never the case that 74 councillors tried to raise points under it. What AOB is supposed to do is give councillors an opportunity to raise important matters as a matter of urgency. How banning that protects transparency is a mystery.

KLS said...

No AOB in Swansea Council for years.

Anonymous said...

A.O.B is actually statutorily defined in the Local Governemnt Act

it's not A.O.B in the traditional sense, it's urgent items that the CHair has been given notice of in advance. Urgent items are defined as items which could not be tabled due to the sudden nature that they occured. i.e they occured between the agenda being formed and the meeting being held, and could not be raised any other way.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I agree that it is totally wrong for it not to be printed as an item on the agenda if it is a stipulation of the authority's constitution; I do completely disagree with the last sentence of the article which suggests that Carmarthenshire must be the only British council not to have a provision for 'Any Other Business' at council meetings.

On the contrary, I'd go out on a limb and say that the overwhelming majority of councils in the UK don't have an AOB provision.

Anonymous said...

I'm the writer of the first comment and am certainly not being disingenuous, just citing my experience of other councils.

Whilst we may not agree that AOB can be used to avoid transparency, it does sound as if you've got a real problem with the Chief Exec in Carmarthenshire.

In most Councils, if the required number of signaturies put their name to a motion to, say, give the freedom of the town to all Martians, then that motion will go on the agenda, however ridiculous. On what basis does he disallow motions? And doesn't the Council Leader take some responsibility for the Chief Exec's behaviour?