Thursday 17 October 2013

A managed democracy - Part I

Carmarthenshire County Council is nothing if not inventive when it comes to finding new ways of subverting local democracy, as we can see from two of the latest initiatives.

A managed democracy

Councillors, the press and representatives of selected businesses have been invited to take part in a seminar next Monday to look at a package of proposals for spending cuts drawn up by senior officers and presumably sanctioned by the ruling lights of the Labour/Independent coalition.

Siân Caiach has written to the South Wales Guardian to express her concerns that councillors will be given just three hours to review a number of pre-packaged options. Backbench and opposition councillors will not have had sight of what is being put on the table until the meeting itself; they will have no opportunity to consult with their voters and they will not have time for detailed discussion or debate.

In other words, councillors will be blindfolded, nudged, guided and bounced into giving their blessing to a package of deep cuts to services which will be rubber stamped in due course in a municipal version of the game of pinning the tail onto a donkey.

If you have ever been to a council-run seminar, you will be familiar with how this works. Options are presented in stage one. In stage two most of those options will be dismissed as unworkable or unviable, and then, as if by magic, participants are given the impression that by consensus they have agreed on (small fanfare and drum roll) Option X. Miraculously the people running the seminar will just happen to have a series of detailed Powerpoint slides setting out why Option X was such a wise decision.

Which businesses have been invited and why is something we probably won't find out until after the event, but given that the chief executive has spoken recently about "delivering services in different ways", it is quite possible that we are talking about outsourcing, and that councillors will find themselves rubbing shoulders with the commercial beneficiaries of exciting new strategic partnerships. Watch this space.

The format of the seminar will be to divide participants into groups. That means that there will be no opportunity for any councillors to raise concerns or ask questions which will be heard by the audience as a whole. Any awkward questions will be contained within the individual groups.

The decision to invite the press to participate in the process rather than merely report on it is also something which should ring alarm bells.The council says it wants the media to understand the process, but by making them part of the process it is ensuring that they too are carefully herded into supporting it. An independent, questioning local press then becomes a willing accomplice to the deed.

In part II this blog will look at new proposals for changing the format of council meetings and putting an end to unwanted scrutiny of executive decisions.

It looks as though democracy, or what is left of it in Carmarthenshire, is about to be replaced with a new system of management by seminar.



Anonymous said...

Fighting talk ..."We call on this Labour Led council to make a stand, stand shoulder to shoulder with their hard working employees; launch a mass campaign alongside the trade unions and the people of Carmarthenshire to refuse to implement the cuts. Use your reserves if you need time to build the campaign. Set a budget that meets the needs of Carmarthenshire and demand the return of the monies stolen from Carmarthenshire County Council’s budget. We want less hand wringing and far more fight. As far as our branch is concerned there is one popular choice that Councillors can make that is to oppose and fight all cuts."

Anonymous said...

Given that the SW Guardian has learnt from other newspapers that "THE level of funding Carmarthenshire will receive from the Welsh Government has decreased by 3.9 per cent ..." is it safe to assume that CCC have not invited them to the seminar in Y Ffwrness Theatre?

Anonymous said...

Council leader Kevin Madge said it will have to save £30m. "The warning comes as councillors themselves are told that they could get a small increase in their allowances ..."

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @15.26 I understand that all local newspapers have been invited.

Anonymous said...

I have been told that many CCC employees have received letters, asking if they would volunteer for redundancy / early retirement.

The problem is there are so few jobs in Carmarthenshire, so that many who would like to leave can't because of financial commitments.

If jobs need to go they need to be in the higher echelons and not amongst those providing a front line service for the public.

Clearly there shouldn't be so many back room 'non jobs', created by bosses for the sycophants and 'hangers on'.

How do I know about these; well a number of years ago I worked for the outfit for a short period, and was horrified at the antics of many - though not all - senior staff.

They 'created' jobs on a whim; jobs that served no purpose whatsoever and jobs that probably even the Chief Exec was unaware of.

I seem to recall one was entitled, 'Head of Performance, Policy and Review', or some other similalrly grandiose title. What he / she did all day, I don't know - they just created more and more bureaucracy that tied everyone up in knots.

Will the cuts come amongst the upper echelons? What do you think? Do Turkeys vote for Christmas?

I no longer live in Carmarthenshire, but still have family in the county and so keep and eye on what is going on - and read about Carmarthenshire County Council in Private Eye. I sometimes wonder if it has turned into a banana republic since I left.

Anonymous said...

This seminar idea insults backbench and opposition Councillors, relegating them to more than than interested bystanders. Decision-making by the Executive alone has neutered the rest of the Council members, and the Stalinist (or perhaps more charitably, Kafkaesque) way of running full Council meetings means that Members have no ability to question the decisions of the Council or hold them to account. Perhaps there is a case for Members taking a protest along the lines of Gerry Adams, by getting elected but never attending Council - in Carmarthenshire unless your "Approved" rubber stamp is freshly inked, there's no point in being there.

Bernard said...

I have had a three year battle with this crowd in CCC.
Every time you get them in a tight corner a new "manager"appears and you need to update him of the past.
I must say though that the "managers" always greet you with smiles (or are they grins in disguise.
I certainly have no trust whatsoever in any CCC statements.