Thursday 26 June 2014

A letter to the Editor

Update 26 June

It is understood that Daniel Hurford of the WLGA has offered himself as a contact. Anyone wishing to send in their views or suggestions can e-mail to:


The following letter from two of Carmarthenshire's bloggers has appeared in the South Wales Guardian, and we hope that, whatever readers' political views, they will join us and make their views known about what sort of County Council they want to see.

"Dear Editor

Carmarthenshire County Council  has announced that it will be beginning a review of its governance arrangements in the near future. On the face of it, this sounds like a very dry and technical subject, but it goes to the heart of what sort of local government we want.

Readers of the South Wales Guardian will know that Carmarthenshire County Council has been through a very turbulent year and has often made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The Council Leader, Kevin Madge, has gone on record as saying that he would like a fresh start, and we think that the review which has just been announced is an opportunity for the council to do just that.

Although the review panel will be talking to councillors and officers, we feel strongly that they should also listen to the views of the public in Carmarthenshire, and we would like to encourage everyone who cares about local government and the services it provides to write in and give their views on what needs to change.

Local government directly affects all of us in our daily lives, often more so than what happens in the Welsh Assembly or Westminster. It is responsible for education, social services, the roads, waste and the environment, planning, public health and much else besides. Only a minority of voters turns out to vote in council elections, and many councils are effectively run year in, year out by the same old faces. They are often less than welcoming when their actions and decisions are questioned by the press and public. That needs to change.

In Carmarthenshire a recent survey commissioned by the Welsh Government showed that more people than in any other part of Wales felt that they were unable to influence council decisions.

In recent years the constitution which governs the democratic functions of the council has been amended many times, and the cumulative effect of these changes has been to reduce the ability of ordinary councillors to scrutinise the actions of the governing board and senior officers.

Not long ago a request from opposition and backbench councillors to get the council to consult them on charges for sports facilities in the south of the county was rejected by a senior officer as an attempt at “micro-managing” executive decisions. On another occasion a planning officer rejected a request for a report on traffic and road safety in connection with a planning application saying that it was the council’s policy only to publish what it was legally obliged to publish. On several occasions in the last year the council executive has refused to allow debate or questions on a number of serious matters.

We believe that the default should be set to “open”, with the council withholding only what it is legally prevented from publishing.

Here are some of the changes we would like to see:

  • ·         Encouraging public participation, with time set aside for public questions and answers at monthly meetings and a much simplified procedure for submitting questions.

  • ·         Restoring urgent items to the agenda to enable councillors to raise pressing matters with the executive.

  • ·         Set aside a part of meetings of the full council with an open session of questions for the Leader and members of the Executive Board.

  • ·         Removing unreasonable restrictions on the numbers of signatures councillors need before they can submit a motion.

  • ·         Restoring recorded votes in committees so that members of the public can see how councillors voted on controversial matters.

  • ·         Extend filming to all committees, and the Planning Committee in particular. If this cannot be done for reasons of cost, the council should allow members of the public to record these public meetings.

  • ·         There should be fewer meetings held behind closed doors and independent opinion sought whenever the council applies the so-called “public interest test” before excluding press and public.

  • ·         The registers of interests for councillors and senior officers should be published online and updated.

  • ·         The Business Management Group which makes important decisions on council business should publish its minutes as a matter of course.

  • ·         Details of councillors’ attendance records should be published online.

  • ·         Carmarthenshire should follow the example set by Monmouthshire and publish details of council spending online.

  • ·         Groups bringing petitions to Council should be heard by the full council, and ordinary backbench councillors should be given an opportunity to speak on the petition.

A former US Supreme Court justice once said “sunshine is the best disinfectant” when it came to ensuring good government, and we believe it is time for Carmarthenshire County Council to pull back the curtains at County Hall and let the light in.

Jacqui Thompson, Llanwrda
Richard Vale, Newcastle Emlyn


m1books said...

An excellent shopping list of all that needs to happen to ensure greater accountability in Carmarthenshire. I fear that allowing the rabble (public) to speak will never happen, and regrettably for many people lobbying their county councillor doesn’t seem to have much effect because of the ‘clamps’ put on the ability to raise matters in the Chamber. Should county councillors hold surgeries, like MPs, so that local issues at least can be highlighted and pressure to act attempted. Unfortunately apathy and feelings of helplessness override the frustrations and most people will only act if there is serious anxiety about something on their doorstep eg closure of a care home or day centre, supermarket or housing overdevelopment. Even then public meetings with county officers or other officials rarely achieve much. So you are right, unless some of the core operational and decision-making making processes are radically altered then nothing will change.

Anonymous said...

What you are really saying is, change the man who writes the constitution and who alters it as he thinks fit; and change the acquiescent culture of the councillors on the executive board who allow this to happen.
As we know this highly paid officer apparently made a "schoolboy error"(according to the executive board)but according to the W.A.O. had taken part in an unlawful process. One does not expect "schoolboy errors" from within a cadre of very highly paid officers.

Anonymous said...

llythyr da iawn ganddoch

Redhead said...

Who needs a review - just implement the points in the letter (and retire the CEO and Leader) - job done. Cost of advice - zero.

Wonder what this mob will get in fees and expenses?

Anonymous said...

Will they look into how whistleblowers are treated by Carmarthenshire County Council?

Anonymous said...

Seems my attempt to put my name in the open ID Cneifiwr has been blocked. Don't know why.

Delyth Jenkins

Anonymous said...

Whilst on the subject of whistleblowing, it is interesting to note that Jeremy Hunt, Health Minister met with 6 whistleblowers earlier in the week. As a result he has commissioned Sir Robert Francis to undertake a review into the 'culture of fear' within the NHS. I believe that this review should go further and cover whistleblowing across the board. As the Health service is devolved in Wales, perhaps the Health Minister, Mark Drakeford should do the same for Wales. The system is failing us as whistleblowers. More people losing their jobs for doing the right thing and the perpetrators and Managers who have failed retiring on fat pensions. Glad to hear that Dr Kim Holt is returning to work next week. Very brave lady!

Delyth Jenkins

Anonymous said...

Why does this Authority support the perpetrators and persecute the innocent?

Anonymous said...

To answer your question this Authority needs to protect it's reputation by covering up wrongdoing from the public. The public interest is not even considered. By not logging whistleblowing complaints they do not need to follow the whistleblowing policy or even properly investigate disclosures. Also they do not need to protect the whistleblower who finds even approaching the Chief Executive as per whistleblowing policy (because concerns have not been handled properly) is used to provide officers with further "evidence" of inappropriate behaviour against the whistleblower; the original disclosures are usually classed as being inappropriate. The Chief Ex fails to carry out his duty and completely ignores the whistleblower and the disclosures. He leaves it in the hands of his officers to control the whistleblower in anyway they can to silence him/her.

No officer would dare speak against the actions being taken against the whistleblower as this would be viewed as questioning the integrity of senior officers. The same would apply to any investigation, no officer is capable of staying impartial and fair. This is how it works and complaints by the public or service users are without a doubt handled the same way. Openness and transparency are none existent when there is a need to protect the Authority's reputation.

I speak from experience