Thursday 9 January 2014

Triangulated triage, a Trappist debate and a ticking clock - Carmarthenshire County Council gets back to business

Having finished work for the morning, Cneifiwr logged on to what turned out to be the final 15 minutes of yesterday's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council. The screen said that the council's acting Head of Law, Linda Rees Jones, was speaking, but there was no sound or picture. The result was only slightly less informative than the real thing, but it turned out that for the second month running the elastic bands on the council's web broadcast system had broken, and the only option was to watch proceedings with an English voiceover.

It turned out that Linda was once again telling councillors that for legal reasons they could not discuss the Wales Audit Office's findings that the council's pension arrangements for its chief executive were unlawful. The whole thing was taboo and subject to draconian legal restrictions, she explained, as councillors considered the minutes of an Executive Board meeting held on 4 December where the sole agenda item was, erm,  a discussion of the council's pension arrangements for the chief executive.

This broke new ground in the Alice in Wonderland procedural hocus pocus we have become used to in County Hall. Here was a report which councillors were asked to consider and vote on: in silence.

As usual the meeting agenda was packed with weighty reports, but the daft procedural arrangements mean that there is rarely enough time for councillors to discuss them. The chair was becoming impatient as the hands of the clock ticked towards 1pm. "Time is ticking away", he kept saying, and in the end a whole raft of minutes and documents were waved through without any discussion.

They included the minutes of a meeting of the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee held on 22 November at which councillors had complained that officers were dragging their feet in responding to a request for a report on snooping by council officers on councillors' e-mails. The report had been requested following revelations back in June 2013 that council officers had monitored the e-mail account of Cllr Sian Caiach without her knowledge.

More on this another day, but needless to say, there is still no sign of the report councillors asked for 7 months ago.

One of the reasons why there is less and less time available to councillors to discuss council business and hold the executive to account is that the chief executive has been carrying out his plans to replace normal council business with presentations delivered by guest speakers.

In recent months we have been treated to BT and the Scarlets, and this month it was the turn of the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. In the event a third of the meeting was taken up with what was really not much more than a woman reading sections of the published report out loud and a lot of self-congratulation.

Perhaps the most startling contribution to the ensuing debate came from Meryl Gravell, famous for her robust views about protesters (rabble) and councillors who listen to them (weak).

She began by modestly congratulating herself and her chums on the Executive Board for all their hard work. Sometimes it was necessary to close things down, she continued, and that's when you get the placards out there saying "don't close this, don't close that", but the CSSIW's report was saying that the council's vision was the right one.
Preparing to meet the protesters

Buried in among all this was a message that we can expect more closures and "realignments" along with outsourcing to Megabucks Venture Capital Inc or the Mississippi Church of Hellfire Redemption.

Having seen their report hijacked and hitched up to Meryl and Mark's realignment wagon, the women from the CSSIW remained silent, leaving it to Kevin Madge to waffle on for five minutes about 'ard decisions, ostriches and why he was right all along.

Having dealt with the end of the meeting and the first hour, the next post will examine what happened in the middle. Be prepared for a great deal of confusion.


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

I'm listening to the middle hour as we speak, but only in English. The original Welsh feed doesn't seem to be working at all.

Cneifiwr said...

It's odd, isn't it, that senior officers should warn about the cost and effort involved in broadcasting meetings, and then for the next two months the system breaks down or works only partially. Last month there was not only a technical failure, but the translator appeared to vanish for a chunk of the meeting, forcing everyone to speak in English.

But perhaps it's all a coincidence.