Saturday 15 November 2014

A Wonderful Job - November's Council Meeting (Part 2)

The WLGA report and recommendations were eventually accepted unanimously by the council, and will now head off to a special working group where, in the words of Pam Palmer, they will be picked over "very, very carefully".

The failure of Kevin Madge and Pam Palmer to take on board key aspects of the report's findings does not bode well. Neither of them was prepared in the meeting to recognise the need for a change of culture. Kevin Madge told the Carmarthen Journal ahead of the council meeting that he could not accept the view that the council had been too officer led, and he became noticeably agitated when he touched on the subject of media reporting of the council. No matter what the council did, there would be those outside who damned it, he said.

Pam Palmer had begun her response to the report with an attack on the local press for failing, in her view, to report good news about the council.

The council's relationship with the press was dealt with by the WLGA report, and this aspect of it was picked up by Hold the Front Page, the house journal of the local and regional press: "Council told to show more respect to local press".

The omens are not good.

The meeting moved on to consider a couple of motions, including a call from Cllr Calum Higgins (Lab) for the council to support a feasibility study on the reopening of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway.

Where are you going to live?

Next up was Cllr Alun Lenny (Plaid) with a motion calling on the Welsh Government to relax planning regulations on the conversion of redundant farm buildings for residential use.

The relevant policy was launched to a fanfare in 2010, with the government claiming it would "support sustainable rural communities" with the aim of making it possible for people, and especially young people, to develop businesses and live and work in the communities they were part of.

Very, very few planning applications under TAN6, the policy guidelines, have succeeded anywhere in Wales, and in Ceredigion there is a campaign called Ble ti'n mynd i fyw? ("Where are you going to live?") highlighting the obstacles faced by local young people who want to stay in the communities where they grew up to live and work.

Cllr Lenny pointed out the absurdity of a system which encourages owners of redundant farm buildings to convert them for use as holiday cottages. Not only do such applications stand a good chance of being accepted, but (he might have added), the owners are then showered with amazingly generous grants to fit them out with hot tubs, solar panels and, in the case of one set-up just up the road from Cneifiwr, £4,200 worth of plastic garden furniture.

While EU money is being splashed around on these "investments", local young people are being forced to live for years in caravans, or even sleep rough in cars in one cased mentioned by Cllr Lenny.

Cllr Lenny's motion was accepted after a very muted debate. Strangely not one of the Independents, all of whom represent rural areas, had anything to say about it.

We then moved on to questions to the Executive Board. Kevin Madge, who last month opposed allowing backbench councillors the right to ask supplementary questions, announced that he would now allow them.

A Wonderful Job

Cllr Emlyn Dole (Plaid) wanted to know what Kevin Madge thought about the decision of Huw Lewis, the Education Minister, to claw back some of the education grant previously awarded to Carmarthenshire. The loss is equivalent to a cut of £8 for every child in the county's schools, and comes on top of the council's own attempts to cut school budgets by siphoning off chunks of money to prop up leisure centres.

Kevin Madge thought that Huw Lewis was doing "a wonderful job", and threw up a smokescreen by saying that Plaid-run councils (Ceredigion and Gwynedd) were also making cuts, forgetting to mention that they were having to cut services because the Labour government in Cardiff had cut their block grants. Unsurprisingly, cuts handed down to councils not run by Labour are bigger than than budget cuts for Labour-run councils, with Ceredigion being singled out for the second year running for the biggest reductions.

The cuts were needed, Kevin Madge said, because the government wanted to invest more in the NHS.

He was not going to complain, therefore.

Education, the traditional route out of poverty, and other services which the weak and vulnerable rely on, will have to take it on the chin for the sake of trying to get Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street and pander to the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile End Child Poverty has released a study showing that more than a third of children in parts of Ammanford are living below the breadline. One of the hardest hit places is Garnant (represented for the last 37 years by Cllr Kevin Madge, Lab).

Public Protection

With the sole exception of Cllr Edward Thomas who asked a reasonable question about the council's plans for the Tregib school site, we had seen truly dire performances from three of the Independents' leading lights up to this point. Now it was the turn of Cllr Jim Jones to do a convincing impression of a rabbit in the headlights.

Kevin Madge might not think that the council is officer-led, but Cllr Jones proved him wrong in a slam-dunk performance of stunning ineptitude.

Cllr Siân Caiach had two questions for him, and he was unable to answer either, despite having had at least a week to come up with a reply.

Both questions concerned sewage pollution. The first was when he had been made aware of pollution in the estuary.

He began by saying he was not feeling 100%, and suggested she ask Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water when they popped in to do a presentation.

If he could remember when he had been told, he was not going to say.

Jim's problem, apart from being well past his sell-by date, is that the department over which he has responsibility has been missing a departmental head, and he is therefore having to wait for orders from the new officer in charge. Meanwhile, he is being paid a salary of £29,000 a year when he should be at home enjoying his pension.

The second question related to sewage pollution of Llanelli Beach. The beach is owned by Carmarthenshire County Council which used to carry out testing of water quality. This stopped in 2009 when it was abundantly clear that raw sewage being pumped into the river Lliedi was turning the sea off the beach into a nasty bacterial soup.

Although the beach is not a designated swimming beach, it is a recreational beach, and as Cllr Caiach pointed out, children like to go paddling in the water.

By not testing the water, the council can claim it is not aware that there is a threat to public health. Moreover, it is not intending to find out, but it has acknowledged that there may be a problem by putting up a couple of signs advising the public to wash their hands after being on the beach.

As Cllr Caiach pointed out, these small signs are nowhere near the cafe or a shop which sells ice cream.

What Cllr Jones could have done as a minimum was to say that greater efforts will be made to inform the public of the risks by, for example, displaying more prominent warning signs and advising people to wash their hands before consuming food.

He could have said that the council would take steps to find out the extent of the pollution by recommencing testing.

Neither of those measures would be expensive, and neither of them involves a commitment to fix the underlying cause of the pollution.

But Cllr Jones, who is responsible for public health, was not about to do anything. Cllr Caiach would receive a written response in due course, just as soon as an officer could be found to tell him what to say.

No doubt, Kevin Madge would say that Dog Muck Jim is also doing a wonderful job.


Anonymous said...

Clr Jones performance was truly truly embarassing and in my view brings shame on the whole council.

Nobody I think expects him to have the full scientific answer to the questions - he is after all responsible for policy and direction. But he should have had a prepared answer, even if it was a political holding answer.

I don't know if Clr Jones accesses social media or even the recording of the council meeting. If he does so he really needs to look at his own performance and ask himself if he really is cut out for this important brief.

With reference to the issues of pollution at Llanelli beach surely if a tragedy happens and some child dies from an ecoli type infection will not the council be responsible in law.

After all they know there is a problem as they have put up signs. Why would they do this if, as they say they they have no evidence to suggest a problem ?

A relative of mine takes her grandchildren to Llanelli beach sometimes and I'm sure she has no inclin that there is a pollution problem.

I think that this pollution thing is probably one of the most serious issues the council faces at this time and definitely Clr jones is just not up to the task !!!!!

Redhead said...

May I suggest that people take photographs of the signs before they disappear.

Also, perhaps the opposition could fork out for 2 or 3 private samples of the water to use as baseline evidence should the excrement hit the headlines rather than the fan.