Friday 10 January 2014

A Rebellion

The main event at this month's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council was an attempt by senior officers and the Executive Board to take responsibility for deciding on school closures away from elected councillors.

Reading haltingly and with a complete lack of conviction from a script, Keith Davies (Lab), the Executive Board member responsible for schools and children's services, explained why he thought (or rather whoever had written his script) that this was a wonderful thing. It would speed up decision making and put responsibility into the hands of people who had extensive experience of reorganising (i.e. closing) schools.

The ensuing debate was saw some passionate contributions from the Plaid councillors, with Eirwyn Williams and Glynog Davies making particularly strong speeches.The proposals were undemocratic, several said. Glynog Davies argued that it was essential that responsibility rested with elected councillors in full council because they knew their communities. Eirwyn Williams reminded councillors that the Modernising Education Programme had cut a swathe across the north of the county with devastating consequences for the villages there and the children.

Sian Caiach deplored this attempt to streamline decision making at the expense of democracy. The proposals for closing small schools were nothing short of dictatorship, she added.

Linda Evans pointed out that all but one of the 10 members of the Executive Board came from the south of the county, and Peter Hughes Griffiths made a very telling point when he asked Keith Davies to outline what his "extensive experience" was.

We will never find out because Anthony Jones (Lab) was on his feet deploring what he felt was a personal attack.

If all of this sounds one-sided and partisan, it would be refreshing to report what Independent and Labour councillors said.

Not a single Independent councillor had anything to say. Their only contribution came when Pam Palmer said "seconded" after Kevin Madge proposed the motion to accept Keith Davies's report.

The surprise came when Anthony Jones proposed an amendment to Kevin Madge's proposal. Instead of seizing the opportunity to kill it off, however, he came up with a very unconvincing argument that councillors needed more information, and so the matter should be sent back off on a circuit of the council, first to the scrutiny committee and then on to the Executive Board before returning for a second debate in full council. Calum Higgins seconded this crab-like manoeuvre.

A split had opened up in Labour's ranks.

Kevin Madge then delivered a kamikaze speech which revealed why councillors were right to oppose the plan. The essence of it was that people who opposed school closures just delayed matters, what with all those long-winded consultations and appeals. He unwittingly demonstrated that once councillor officers had decided that a school should be closed, the Executive Board would have no hesitation in rubber stamping the decision, regardless of the views of local people.

Viewers of the broadcast could not see what happened next, but there must have been some hurried conversations on the Labour benches, with someone pointing out to Kevin Madge that he was about to be defeated. His motion was suddenly withdrawn.

Two recorded votes then took place. The first was on an amendment proposed by Darren Price (Plaid) that full council should have responsibility for deciding school closures and reorganisations. That was narrowly defeated (31 to 30 with one abstention).

Although each councillor had to call out whether they were voting for, against or abstaining, it was impossible from the webcast to hear how some of the Independent members cast their votes. What seems to have happened is that the Labour group closed ranks and voted against the Plaid amendment, while a couple of Independents voted in favour.

In the second vote Anthony Jones's motion to send the matter back to the scrutiny committee was carried.

What that means is that the issue will not resurface for months. In the meantime we can be sure that a great deal of arm twisting, cajoling and barely disguised bribery using special responsibility allowances will take place to try and ensure that the council officers get the answer they want.

A little later there was more bizarre procedural hocus pocus when a report from the Democratic Services Committee came up. Council officers had wanted to reduce the frequency of council and committee meetings, but the committee said no. This should have gone to a vote, but the acting Head of Law insisted that there was no need for a vote, and that the matter would instead be referred to a seminar.

Shortly afterwards procedure was used yet again to wave through minutes of another committee meeting at which councillors had expressed frustration that a report on e-mail snooping had still not been provided by officers.

 And that was really the main story behind this month's council meeting: if elected councillors go against officers' wishes, the officers will either ignore them or find ways of circumventing their decisions.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely disgraceful.This latest fiasco could not be clearer.Your reports, Cneifiwr, have consistently
shown the way democracy is slowly being eroded in Carmarthenshire. What the latest evidence exposes is how officers and the ruling administration are firmly and quite openly in complete control.Is it not possible for the opposition to take this to the assembly?
I can't believe there is no case to answer.

Anonymous said...

In my experience in England many "Independent" councillors are actually party hacks who know that voter disenchantment might mean they would be at risk if they used their real party affiliations. Communities actually velieve these people are independent and vote accordingly, only to find they are the loyalist of the loyal to one particular party. Of course, these people should be ashamed if themselves, but there is no shame in (party) politics.

Anonymous said...

Is Niccolo Machiavelli alive and well and providing advice on governance at Carmarthenshire County Council? Getting in third parties to speak at Full Council meetings is a strategy of pure genius. The speakers can use up valuable debate and decision-making time, with no fear of members telling them to "shut up and get on with it" as they might if officers were to attempt to fillibuster in this way. And denying Members the opportunity to vote by promising a future seminar is another cunning wheeze

When are Labour and "independent" members going to wake up to the fact that they were elected to GOVERN. and to ensure that they use what little power that they have left?

Perhaps Plaid should hire a good lawyer to sit with them in Council meetings to advise on the legality of some of these manoeuvres. That might make the Politburo think twice.

Anonymous said...

Councillors not on an Executive committee are toothless tigers and simply voting fodder.

Anonymous said...

Good idea annonymous @ 1748