Thursday 17 October 2013

A managed democracy - Part II: A modest proposal

If the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council has his way, old fashioned council meetings with  their occasional griping, criticism and awkward questions could soon be a thing of the past. Very soon, in fact. Out with the monthly farce where opposition councillors try to hold the executive to account and are told that their questions are not admissible, and in with what sounds for all the world like seminars run by management consultants, dressed up as debates.

News of Mr James's proposals first emerged a couple of weeks back when Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM issued a press release calling on the Welsh Government to intervene in the running of the county council (post here)

Mr James feels that councillors simply don't understand what their job is, and as a result there are a lot of sour-faced elected councillors moping about County Hall who feel frustrated that all decisions of any significance have been delegated to the Executive Board, and that they have no say in anything. Even more disappointingly, lots of county councillors seem to feel the need to drag up stuff which has been dealt with off camera by the various scrutiny committees. Or other bodies such as the Audit Committee, scene of so much needless unpleasantness recently.

The acting Head of Administration and Law, Mrs Rees Jones, has been looking at how other councils do things, it seems. Which councils is not clear, but for all we know it could well be councils in Zimbabwe or Russia, or places that call themselves "Democratic People's Republics".

When she is not watching the chief executive's courtroom appearances or dishing out novel interpretations of the council's constitution, Mrs Rees Jones is also responsible for "Democratic Services", which just goes to show that someone in County Hall really does have a sense of humour.

Every so often parts of council meetings are handed over to guest speakers. These have included Pastor Mark Bennett of Towy Community Church in the past, and forthcoming attractions may include the Scarlets, BT talking about superfast broadband, and some apparatchik from the WLGA talking about finances and possible changes to local government. The chief executive would also like councillors to learn more about what he is doing to transform various council departments with a series of thrilling Powerpoint presentations.

If that were not exciting enough, Pam Palmer has a couple of ideas of her own.

Yes, Pam is in on the proposed changes as well, although that should come as no surprise to Kremlin watchers because Mrs P has a lot of previous when it comes to stifling debate and reining in naive attempts to make the council's dealings more open and transparent. It is no secret, for example, that Pam and Meryl were opposed to allowing that new fangled moving picture technology into the chamber, and are looking for any excuse to stop it.

So instead of nitpicking and quibbling, councillors and any members of the public with nothing better to do, would settle in once a month to a long seminar with guest strategic partners, presentations on departmental transformation and council successes such as PVC installation schemes and diesel consumption targets.

If you think this is just Cneifiwr cracking feeble jokes, think again. This is exactly what is being proposed.

Of course, all this would mean that there would be no time or space for that dull business of raking over committee minutes and asking unpleasant questions.

Can't wait? Well, you may be in luck because the chief executive would like this new arrangement to begin on a trial basis in November!

In the longer term this would require changes to standing orders, and senior councillors would have to persuade their backbenchers that they really don't want to see committee reports any more.

By pure coincidence a pilot in November would mean that it would not be possible for councillors to ask questions about the Audit Committee meeting and the Wales Audit Office. But it seems that that is a sacrifice Mr James is prepared to make.


Anonymous said...

The chief executive? Oh he is cunning that one!He has it all tied up doesn't he? This is now down to the opposition to drive it through to the welsh government.That is the only way.

Anonymous said...

The way things have become here in County Hall, there is not much need for councillors at all with all decision making coming from the CEO himself. Perhaps that's the idea - may be the cost cutting will begin with the dismissal of all councillors.