|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.