Sunday 12 October 2014

October's council meeting - Toxic Fumes

This month's meeting of the full council was a muted affair, with councillors treading water ahead of the unveiling next month of the WLGA's report on the way Carmarthenshire County Council runs itself.

Once again a number of councillors exercised their right to ask questions on a range of topics, and once again the chief executive and his legal team (motto: "Cavalier at best, incompetent at worst"), refused to allow supplementary questions on the grounds that because the constitution does not mention them, they are therefore banned.

Cllr Emlyn Dole, the Plaid leader, tried a different tack this time, proposing that as supplementary questions were not going to be allowed, the council could vote to suspend the rule for the duration of the meeting. A vote then took place, with Labour and what seemed to be most of their Independent allies voting down the proposal.

You have to wonder why backbench Labour and Independent councillors would vote to restrict their right to ask questions on behalf of the people they represent, but that is precisely what they did.

Ironically the first question up after this exercise in democratic transparency and accountability came from Edward Thomas (Ind., Llandeilo). [Correction] Judging from the webcast, most of Cllr Thomas's friends on the Independent benches had just voted not to allow him to ask a follow-up question.

The question concerned air pollution in Llandeilo, and Labour's Cllr Colin Evans was on his feet giving a long, scripted answer which boiled down to a statement that there was nothing that could be done about it, but to help matters along, he had set up a forum which would add a lot of hot air to the noxious gases and toxic fumes swirling around Rhosmaen Street.

Somewhat later in the meeting, Cllr Siân Thomas (Plaid) took an opportunity to ask how many children in Llandeilo were missing school because of asthma attacks and other health problems caused by the pollution in Llandeilo. She recalled that the subject of pollution in Llandeilo had been discussed at her first meeting as a councillor 15 years ago.

Colin Evans was fortunately not called upon to answer that point having had to leave the meeting, but Kevin Madge was unfortunately on hand to give his views, which were in essence that the people of Llandeilo themselves were to blame for the pollution because they had not been able to agree on a route for the bypass, but thanks to Colin Evans and his forum, everything was now much better.

Llandeilo still won't be getting a bypass any time soon, especially since Edwina Hart grabbed all the money for her new M4 system. And thanks to Kev, Labour's election prospects in Llandeilo now look even bleaker. But at least they've got a forum.

Cllr Keith Davies (Lab) responded in English to a question in Welsh on the Welsh Government's decision to scrap the school banding system. Cllr Davies, who was until last year the council's "Welsh language champion", haltingly read a long, turgid statement in English which appeared to have come straight from Labour Spin Central in Cardiff. The new system was going to be much better, in short.

Cllr Cefin Campbell wanted to know what evidence there was to support a claim made by a member of the Executive Board that the Welsh language could be an obstacle to investment by overseas investors. The identity of the Executive Board member remains a mystery, at least officially, but Cllr Campbell knows a thing or two about treigladau, and clearly thought that the remarks had been made by someone of the feminine gender.

Replying, Kevin Madge (Lab) defended the right of everyone to express their opinions.

Cllr Meryl Gravell was absent for the second successive monthly meeting of the full council. Let's hope she is given an opportunity to explain herself when she does eventually condescend to attend a council meeting.

Finally, Cllr Eirwyn Williams wanted to know if Kevin Madge thought that spending over £28,000 on the services of Mr Tim Kerr QC to defend the unlawful payments to Mark James was value for money.

Kev thought it was good value, and he was not going to say anything else.

Thanks to the ban on supplementary questions, that was the end of the matter.

After the usual shambolic performances by Labour's Kevin Madge and Keith Davies, the leading lights of the "Independent" group rallied round to show that they could be every bit as incompetent.

Cllr Linda Evans (Plaid) deplored the end of the Bobby Van service which had provided elderly and other vulnerable people with advice and help on home security. She was particularly surprised that Cllr Jim Jones (that's Dog Muck Jim to everyone else) had been unaware that the service had been terminated, even though public protection is his portfolio. Cllr Jim remained silent, but his boss Cllr Pam Palmer stepped into the breach with some waffle about partnership working. This seemed to involve getting firemen to advise on home security while they were visiting people in connection with smoke alarms.

Perhaps they will start selling double glazing and doing pensions advice as well.

A little later Pam gave another demonstration of the breathtaking scope of her knowledge of just about everything in response to concerns raised by Cllr Sharen Davies (Lab). Cllr Davies was worried that unqualified staff in centres receiving grants could be giving advice and support to people with drug and alcohol addiction problems.

She wasn't going to name names, but Cllr Peter Cooper (Lab) dropped a heavy hint to suggest that this might be happening at one of Meryl Gravell's favourite drop-in centres in Llanelli (and the scene of the infamous "rabble" incident).

Pam was on her feet once again to say that the council had no control over the people who received grants, and if it was a "Welsh Office grant", it had nothing to do with the council.

Devolution has obviously not yet come to Pam's attention, but more worryingly this was confirmation of what many people have long suspected: that the council is happy to dollop out grants with few if any questions asked.

Apart from that, the council unanimously approved a motion tabled by Kevin Madge to ban the sale of Chinese lanterns on council property.

It was odd that this had found its way on to the agenda when the Executive Board more than likely has powers to do this without going to full council. Even odder when we recall that much more contentious matters such as charges for sports facilities were kept away from councillors, with Mrs Linda Rees Jones telling Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths that his request to have the policy debated was nothing more than an attempt at micro-managing Executive Board decisions.

And we also heard from the chief executive that the current sponsorship deal with the Scarlets would soon becoming to an end, and that it was unlikely that councillors would be keen to renew it.

Perhaps councillors may wish to donate Mr James's serverance pay to the Scarlets instead.


Anonymous said...

I live in Llaneilo, and ukip will be getting my vote. I was plaid but they stopped sainsbury coming to Llandeio, and labour have dragged their feet on building the bypass.

Cneifiwr said...

Plaid didn't stop Sainsbury's coming to Llandeilo. Sainsbury's decided to pull out for commercial reasons.

Anonymous said...

Not sure that Sainsbury's had any real intention of coming to Llandeilo. I think it was a fall-back position in case planning permission for their development in Cross Hands didn't work out, although we didn't know about that possibility at the time. I was one of the original 'Stop Sainsburys' group and I can tell you that most of us were definitely not Plaid supporters!

Anonymous said...

you forgot the bit of the meeting when Sian Thomas said the minutes were too detailed!!! somebody put her back on script!

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@14.36 - I think the point Siân Thomas was making was that the answers to the questions were for the most part political spin.

For example, at last week's meeting Keith Davies read out a long statement about school bandings which you would very much hope was not written by a council officer because it sounded like a Labour press release. I suspect that we will see that reproduced in the minutes.

Anonymous said...

Plaid and Jonathan Edwards were against Sainsbury's - they don't like money going up the M4 to English companies yet this would have offered jobs - 80/90per cent of the people of the area were in favour of Sainsbury and a similar percentage is in favour of BY Pass Most of the people against Sainsbury's & BY Pass are newcomers to the area who have this dreamy idea of a rose cottage in the country forgetting that the air pollution is/has been affecting the health of young & old alike and there are no there alternatives to the BY Pass , they also forget that with their retirement income or jobs elsewhere that local people would like the opportunity of working locally

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@10:13 There was a lot of opposition to Sainsbury's in Llandeilo as well as support, but there were aspects of the way in which the planning application was handled which were a cause for concern, and the Welsh Government was asked to review the application with a view to calling it in. That does not mean that the application would have been rejected, only that it would have been examined closely to ensure that it conformed with legal and policy requirements. As I recall, Sainsbury's decided to pull the application before the Welsh Government could make a decision on whether to call it in.

As a previous commenter noted, it was unlikely that Sainsbury's would ever have opened in Llandeilo. Just take a look at Cardigan where Sainsbury's was granted planning several years ago and has still not laid a single brick, although every year they say the store will open the following year.