Tuesday 6 January 2015

Back to business

After a quiet couple of weeks, it's time to make a few educated guesses about what will be coming our way in Carmarthenshire over the next few months.

Will he, won't he?

The first half of 2014 was dominated by scandals involving unlawful payments to the chief executive, and we can expect Mark James to be back in the headlines again as the council decides what to do about his application for a six-figure pay-off under the council's severance scheme.

A decision on the application was to have been made before the end of 2014 but was delayed without explanation. 

If accepted, the deal would mean making the post of chief executive redundant, a decision which will have to be approved by councillors. Watch this space.

It's worth remembering that following the departure of Bryn Parry-Jones from Pembrokeshire, Mark James is now the highest paid council chief executive in Wales.

The most open and transparent council in Wales

While Mr James's future is being deliberated, he remains a key player in a group set up to make recommendations on the recommendations made by the WLGA peer review group on overhauling the council's constitution and changing the culture of the county council.

Other participants in this group include the acting head of law and administration, still acting after years in post -an arrangement which has meant that elected councillors have never been asked to express a view on who should be Monitoring Officer and head up "Democratic Services". Mrs Rees Jones it was who took a leading role in challenging the findings of the Wales Audit Office, which included a bizarre series of press releases attacking the integrity of the WAO and its officers. Along with Cllrs Kevin Madge (Lab) and Pam Palmer (Ind) - also serving on the working group - she has presided over a series of amendments to the council's constitution which taken together have made Carmarthenshire one of the least open, transparent and accountable local authorities in Wales.

Meetings of this group tasked with making Carmarthenshire "the most open and transparent council in Wales" are closed to the press and public, and minutes of its meetings are not published.

We can expect to find out what changes they deem necessary in the next couple of months.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

The next couple of months will also see the finishing touches put to the latest package of spending cuts and another inflation-busting increase in council tax. Frontline services will be hit, and we can expect to hear more about outsourcing some services to the "third sector" and possibly to private sector operators such as Capita, which has been busy snuggling up to the council.

For a glimpse of what a Capita-run council is like, read Mrs Angry's chronicle of how local democracy in Barnet, north London, has been sold off. Capita employees now run the show, largely beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act, and recently used delegated powers to approve the demolition of the former British Library newspaper archive.

Expect Kevin Madge to waffle on about difficult decisions and Tory cuts, although the cuts in local government spending in Wales have been handed down by a Labour government in Cardiff which decides its own spending priorities.

Anyone who imagines that life would be different under Labour clearly wasn't listening to Owen Smith, Labour's shadow Secretary of State for Wales, who told BBC Wales listeners on 3 December that, "We've pledged to stick to some of the austerity targets that the Tories have introduced on welfare, on child benefits, for example."

The E word

Unless you have been hiding under a duvet for the last few weeks, you will have noticed that this is an election year.

The main event is in May, but we are also due to get a by-election in Hengoed ward near Llanelli following the death of Cllr George Edwards.

The race was incredibly close back in May 2012. Labour is understandably nervous about its prospects, and it is understood that the party would like to postpone a poll until the Assembly elections in 2016 for fear that a loss could upset the knife-edge balance of power in its coalition with the Independents.

This novel form of democracy in which elections are delayed for as long as possible, and communities left without elected representatives for almost 18 months is one which may well be challenged by residents who can petition the chief executive to be allowed to vote.

Meanwhile, remarkable things are happening in Llanelli, but more on that later.

A Clean Bill of Health

Over in Pembrokeshire the police have raided several addresses in connection with ongoing investigations into allegations of fraudulent grant claims. A useful summary of the background to this case can be read here, and one of the most noteworthy and disturbing aspects of it is that all of the official watchdogs involved, including the Wales Audit Office, the Wales European Funding Office and the Welsh Government's own audit team, failed to find anything wrong when they were first asked to inspect the books.

It will be recalled that Carmarthenshire County Council recently claimed that its own awards of millions of pounds of EU grant money to shell companies were also given a clean bill of health by the WAO.


Anonymous said...

Cneifiwr, I think you have your facts wrong on the by-election. Labour would not wait 18 months, and I don't think its even possible to do so. The limit is 6 months, and they would prefer that it takes place alongside the general election in 2015. that would result in the electorate being represented by one councillor instead of two for a period of 5 months. it's a convention between all parties that the party who lost a seat are the arty who call the lection, as long as it is within the 6 months allowed.

Redhead said...

If he wIts too long his golden goodbye will be capped at £95,000. He isn't going anywhere but the court case now starting for his friend in similar circumstances should send chills down his spine.

Anonymous said...

I understand Labour will cal election for March/ Feb but turnout will be so low gain in Llanelli wards better wait until May7 General election but a low turnout will favour Plaid

Anonymous said...

Best to go back to writing in Welsh ...... no-one seems to be interested in participating in your debates.

Sali Mali said...

@Anon at 1942 - best crawl back under your rock.

Keep up the good work Cneifiwr :)

Blodwen said...

Hear, hear, Sali Mali! But I don't think Cneifiwr needs to take any notice of idiots like Anon 19.42 as the latter is vastly outnumbered by the people who value and respect Cneifiwr and his well-researched blog (whether or not they enter into "debate" online). Cneifiwr says what the majority of Carmarthenshire people are thinking - and we are all grateful that there are bloggers like him and Jacqui to keep us informed of the machinations of the council.

Anonymous said...

Indeed anon @ 8.14
Hard- working people do not always have the time or knowledge to comment on the rules and policies of local government.This does not mean no one is reading your and Jaqui's blogs.
Interestingly anon at 19.42 hasn't said very much.I follow all comments and rarely does anyone question your obvious knowledge of how local government works.
Come the election thanks to your and Jacqui's blogs we might see a change in the way council business is run.