Wednesday 23 October 2013

The Ffwrnes Farce

Carmarthenshire County Council held its budget cuts seminar at the Ffwrnes Theatre on Monday. There were several reports in the media on the day from the BBC, Golwg and other sources. All of them were obviously based on a County Hall press release, with identical quotes from Kevin Madge, the Labour Council Leader. Or more likely the words written for him by the department of spin.

The BBC carried a picture of members of Unison protesting outside the venue, but otherwise the stories were all filed before the event had taken place.

The Carmarthen Journal is now carrying a short piece which is mainly an extract of Kev's opening address including the line,

My message to councillors is that we are here to represent our electorate, we all need to do this.

None of these reports gives anything like an accurate account of the event itself, as readers may be able to tell from the picture below which was tweeted by Caebwryn.

Although like Cneifiwr she was not invited, perhaps Carmarthenshire's most famous film maker sneaked in as a cleaner.

Budget Bingo
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Excluding the bigwigs at the top table, there were about 50 people in the theatre, including representatives of the media and various selected local businesses. The Chief Executive was by all accounts not happy.

Plaid Cymru boycotted the event because of the partisan way in which the ruling Labour-Independent administration is going about this budget cutting exercise, and they rightly suspected that the seminar was little more than a pre-packaged PR stunt. The group did however send along 5 councillors as observers.

If we discount the 5 Plaid observers who did not participate in the exercise itself, only 22 councillors are understood to have taken part. Or to look at it another way, two thirds of councillors were absent, including half of all the Labour and Independent councillors.

It may be that there were a few Labour councillors who stayed away on principle, but in the case of the Independents and most of Kev's troops, the truth is that the majority couldn't be bothered. They know that all they have to do is turn up at County Hall on the appointed day and vote as instructed, without the need to read through all those boring reports and recommendations.

Cllr Alun Lenny (Plaid) has provided an account of what it was actually like to be down on the floor during the charade:

"It was very appropriate that such a farce was held at the Ffwrnes Theatre. Unfortunately, it was also a tragedy for democracy and for the people of Carmarthenshire.
I was met with open hostility by certain Labour and Independent councillors on my table. Meryl Gravell tried to get me ejected from the meeting for refusing to take part in the discussion. I told her I'd only be doing what most Independent members do in council meetings... 
During a heated exchange, advice was taken from the Monitoring Officer and Chris Burns. I told them I wouldn’t be dictated to, had a perfect right to be there and stayed in my seat. 
We'd been informed by the council that “As it is a seminar, it is of course not a decision making meeting.” Yet, during the next three hours the other councillors on my table voted, by show of hands, for all but one of the 52 proposed cut-backs to go out to public consultation. 
The same process happened on the other tables, with non-elected business people and members of the press also taking part. 
Never, in over 30 years in my previous career as a journalist, have I witnessed such a travesty of the democratic process. 
Quite apart from the nature of the meeting itself, councillors were presented with a massive tranche of cut-back proposals by council officers and given just three hours to discuss and vote on the proposals. Quite incredible and totally unacceptable. 
The people of Carmarthenshire have reason to be truly alarmed and angered that the process of cutting tens of millions of pounds from public spending should have started in such a cavalier manner."


Anonymous said...

I'm normally one with alot of respect for AL, however I think Plaid are over egging this a bit. Other local authorities run these types of semiars pre budget, and have been doing so for years; their only function is to see what is generally palletable to the members and stakeholders. It's no more than a focus group. Correct me if i'm wrong, but the process is that budget propoals will now go out to public consultation, and then come back to the scrutiny committees where backbench memebers have their democratic say. Unfortunatley, last year many Plaid members abstained through the scrutiny process and then only voted in the budget. For members to abstain through scrutiny last year and now complain of a democratic defecit is a bit cheap. It's all a bit toys out of the pram...

Anonymous said...

Could this seminar be regarded as unlawful?

Anonymous said...

Yes, seminars can be useful. But for something as important as this, it is insulting for elected members to be lumped together with selected invitees, who may have a very different agenda from that of politicians. Council Members should be the first people to be told of the Executive's thoughts on this issue, and to be given time to formulate their own views.

The Ffwrnes Fiasco was not a well-considered way of discussing budgets and it's not at all surprising that some saw it as a heavy-handed stunt to bulldozer through preferred options. With such a pitiful turnout, the outcome will lack any respectable basis for future discussion and was therefore a waste of money, money which the Council can ill-afford to lavish.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

When do we get to hear about the 50+ proposed cutbacks? There was nothing at all in the James Journal today. Does someone have a list?

Cneifiwr said...

Alun Lenny is intending to publish a list.

Anonymous said...

@10:12 What other Local Authorities invite the media and businesses to make policy decisions?

Anonymous said...

other Plaid members participated in the discussions
It is the easiest thing in the world to be in opposition everything the ruling group does is wrong .The stark truth is that the WG have cut all local authorities budgets as their budgets have been cut by Westminster so hard decisions will have to be made and CCC and all other local authorities will have to set a budget .The choice is increasing council tax and cut less services or no increase in council tax and cut more services

Anonymous said...


It's pretty clear the show of hands was a bad idea, but no decisions have been taken as it has no legal authority. There's a significant amount of plaid splin about the importance of this seminar... It like they don't want budget discussions until February.