Sunday 15 February 2015

When is a report not a report? February's Council Meeting

This month's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council was once again a very thin affair, with half of the new-look agenda relating to reports from the various scrutiny and other committees having been roped off and declared out of bounds.

Image result for police cordon
The new agenda
Caebrwryn has already written up a good summary (here), so this post will concentrate on two points only.

Firstly, Cllr Cefin Campbell (Plaid) referred in a question to the Welsh Government's new banding scheme for schools which showed that a third of primary schools in Carmarthenshire were categorised as in need of intervention and special measures. He was concerned that the council, with its Modernising Education Programme, was too focused on buildings and not enough on the standard of education. This picture was borne out by Estyn inspections over the last few years which found that a high proportion of schools in the county needed follow-up action after inspections.

Replying from a written response, the Executive Board member responsible for education, Keith Davies (Lab), said "No", and proceeded to read a list schools which had come out of the new bandings scheme well.

And that is as far as we got. So we can conclude that it is all right that a third of primary schools and a quarter of secondary schools are under performing.

The second point concerns the latest restrictions on the ability of councillors to ask questions and hold the council to account now that reports from the various committees may no longer be discussed, and any questions arising from them must in future be submitted in writing, seven days in advance of a meeting.

Spontaneous questions and discussion will no longer be permitted.

The Chief Executive was very keen to emphasise that this change had been unanimously approved by the group considering the WLGA's recommendations to improve governance and transparency in the council. A group which ironically continues to meet behind closed doors and produce minutes which may only be obtained through the long-winded process of freedom of information requests.

No doubt the group would have received quite a lot of input on this matter from Mr James himself, who has long been itching to put a stop to questioning and discussion.

The change did not need to wait for the council's constitution to be amended, he claimed, because the constitution did not require minutes of meetings to be "received" by council, only reports.

So we were down to the usual Jamesian "how many angels can dance on a pin head" sort of legalistic interpretation. Minutes are not reports, being the substance of this particular argument.

Bearing that in mind, this is what the agenda for the webcast had to say:

Opposition and backbench members of the working group on the WLGA panel recommendations had shot themselves in the foot, to Mark James's obvious satisfaction, as they will realise next time they spot something interesting lurking in the fine print of a set of committee minutes and find their freedom to ask questions has been severely limited.

The last word goes (in what is a first for this blog) to Cllr Anthony Jones (Lab) who was this month's Man of the Match for asking the working group to reconsider its decision.

Someone buy that man a pint.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Freudian slip?
See the webcast at 01:54:19
At about 01:56:35 Mr James says -
“…because I suspected some members would be unhappy with this change to the constitution, I specifically asked all group leaders, and I appreciate one is not here today, were they in favour of this and they were…”
Bet that won’t be in the minutes/report of the meeting (or whatever he decides to call them so they can’t be discussed)