Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Meryl scrapes through...and the undertaking is back

In case you have not already heard, Meryl Gravell hung on to the leadership of the council in the vote of No Confidence by 5 votes. Proposed by Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths, over 30 voted against her. I was at the meeting (more of the entry nonsense, which has got worse, later) and there was a very full Chamber. The meeting started with a presentation of the Auditor's Improvement Plan, Meryl took the opportunity, given the main event to follow, to sing her own praises, referring to the auditors as our 'critical friends' - I think the word 'critical' is possibly unnecessary. I will not go into detail about the report, Y Cneifiwr has given an excellent summary here - Tea and Biscuits with the Auditor. One of the main concerns raised was that the report blamed 'decision making' by the councillors for stalling 'improvement' and increasing costs. This was of course an oblique reference to the two Llanelli Care Homes, saved from closure in a flash of democracy last February.

As I have said before, the lines of governance are blurred in Carmarthenshire, Councillors, it appears (apart from Executive ones) are not supposed to make decisions which represent the views of their constituents (my own councillor is not on the Executive Board, but wouldn't know what a 'constituent' was if one fell on him). This point was raised several times. We know all about blurry lines though
Meryl's supporters, Cllrs Madge, Scourfield, Wooldridge etc etc used every opportunity during this report and the report on Social Care standards (see this week's Private Eye in  previous post) which followed (the presenter of which expressed her need to 'triangulate evidence' - you get the drift of these things) to make admiring remarks about the Leader, and to suggest that if this silly nonsense (criticising the glorious leader) continued they could end up like Anglesey - too late for that chaps! You've past them long ago - all this was before the debate over the no confidence vote had even started. Meryl, at some point announced that people at some event or other she had attended were amazed that she was prepared to butter scones - like an ordinary person!

It continued in this ridiculous vein for some time, Meryl sat sulkily with what appeared to be a carefully practiced 'pained' expression whilst her close ally, Cllr Pam Palmer kept swivelling round to continually glare at various speakers.

Eventually, with time pressing on and the smell of boiled cabbage emanating from the canteen, we came to the vote - but not before the whole Chamber was plunged into constitutional disarray by an amendment, introduced, I believe, by Meryl's gang to thwart the vote. It was time for the Chief Executive to wade in and explain to the confused councillors in slow, steady, words of one syllable that they would have to vote on the amendment (part of it was disallowed anyway as it was a 'direct negative' to the Vote) before voting on Meryl.

After some discussion as to whether the amendment was even relevant - it referred to ChooseLife, the location of Meryl's speech - of course no one was criticising Choose Life, it was Meryl under fire not the centre - it was withdrawn. The only speaker, I believe who hit the nail on the head was Cllr Sian Caiach, (after she had been told, by the Chair to sit down and stop 'interfering with Members' which caused a ripple of amusement in the Gallery), she said the issue was not particularly about the ill chosen words the Leader had said that day it was, amongst other things, her relentless agreement with certain senior officers resulting in the erosion of democracy in the Council, recent changes to the constitution regarding petitions and motions being two recent examples. As I have said before, whether you agree with them or not, Cllrs Caiach and Arthur Davies are the only ones who can see the proceedings, and this officer-led council for the complete farce it is, (and boy, was it a farce today) and are regularly admonished for challenging it all. Cllr Caiach mentioned that the Chief Executive (with Meryl's blessing of course) had put her and Cllr Davies in 'special measures' and everything they ask or do has to be approved by him, she also brought up the fact that democracy was being further eroded by the Executive Board's decision to fund the Chief Executive's court battles against a resident. At this point, as you may well imagine, she was shouted down.

As the meeting had been going for two hours, lots of 'comfort breaks' were made, I have a feeling there may have been ulterior motives, at one point Meryl and the Chief Executive disappeared at the same time appearing back through different doors they exited from. Anyway, the vote was finally made, it was recorded (I also recorded it, just in case), and as I said, she survived by five votes.

I wonder whether a secret ballot would have produced a different result - I believe there may have been a few who were prepared to vote against her, had she not been able to see them do it.

There's nothing more to say other than the May elections can't come soon enough.

And, it's a pity no one filmed the meeting.

I must now mention the ridiculous nonsense in the lobby. You may remember the council recently announced they were dropping the unlawful undertaking, giving the unlikely reason that it would 'reduce the burden of administration' however, today it was back, with a vengeance, not only do we have to print our names, sign and date it, but a new addition is a requirement for our addresses. Things became heated, @towy71 refused to sign (See his post - Welcome to Ruritania) so was not allowed in, I challenged their authority under the DPA as to whether they could legally collect and hold the information (yes they can, apparently), someone else produced a cutting from today's Carmarthen Journal. An increasingly agitated democratic services manager, Mr C Davies was present so I asked him why it had been brought back in and he said it was because of comments on 'blogsites'.

As the meeting was almost underway, and we had the dual guard business to get through yet, I duly signed and asked for a photocopy to pick up after the meeting. At this point Mr Davies refused to believe I had signed the thing at all and was insisting I signed again - he eventually found proof that someone had taken it to be photocopied.

After the meeting I returned to the desk to retrieve my photocopy, I was told I was not allowed to have one - no explanation why, the chap behind the desk said he was 'only following orders'. I considered seeking some explanation from a higher authority but to be honest, the fresh air was calling by then, and I will ring Mr C Davies tomorrow.

Apart from the fact that the undertaking is unlawful, it is entirely useless - if someone starts filming, whether they've signed or not, they will be told to stop and/or leave the meeting and/or be arrested. End of story. Perhaps it is just me who thinks they are being incredibly petty over all this, but the damaging element in all this is preventing access to people who do not wish to sign. And is is so terrible to film a meeting?
Yesterday Carl Sargeant said he would 'encourage' filming by the public, Pembrokeshire decided to webcast their meetings...things are moving on...what the on earth is wrong with Carmarthenshire Council?

Meryl's 1%

Y Cneifiwr's blog has reminded me of the curious announcement today by Meryl Gravell as she fought for political life, in that the council staff were to get a 1% pay rise. Now, I could be wrong but it is the first I'd heard of it. I could also be wrong but it is very doubtful whether Cllr Gravell herself decided to offer this crumb. Only officers could decide a) whether it was financially feasible and b) it was possible in practical terms. Could it be a coincidence that Meryl's derogatory remarks about council staff, a mere couple of weeks ago triggered this very helpful offering from officers? Enabling her to announce it in the middle of a no confidence vote? Surely not....


Mrs Angry said...

Well - Mr C Davies: here is another comment on a blog for you: what an absolutely ridiculous situation... Are you living in the twenty first century? Have you forgotten that you are accountable to the people who pay your salaries and and allowances? To treat residents in such a way is outrageous, and completely undemocratic, and I am very tempted to visit one of your meetings for no other reason than to disobey these preposterous rules.

caebrwyn said...

well said Mrs A, and I'm sure you'd be most welcome...

Anonymous said...

Anyone would think from your blog that Cllr Caiach proposed the motion of no confidence....

caebrwyn said...

@anon I hope I have made it clearer that it was Plaid, I have followed this from earlier posts which state as such.

Martin Milan said...

Did you ask them precisely which purpose they felt covered them under the DPA?

lesleyw said...

I think the 1% pay rise for council employees is something that has been agreed with the unions? In which case it is nothing to do with Mrs G being generous and valuing the staff.

I too was at the meeting and having at first refused to give them my address, I put down an address in France which caused some consternation in the ranks.

I was appalled by the way Cllrs Caiach and Davies were spoken to by the chairman. Total lack of respect; treated like children in a primary school class and not given nearly as much "air time" as the councillors who were allowed to witter on endlessly and boringly about the glorious leader.

caebrwyn said...

@Martin Milan
Yes I did, and I was given an answer from legal;

Under Purpose 12 - Corporate Functions

'organisation and administration of council meetings'

under data subjects;
Local residents

under data classes;
personal details

Martin Milan said...

Bugger, as they say...

However, still not good enough. They can only collect personal information, over and above whatever they are entitled to in law, with your knowledge and consent. This is why we all end up checking endless boxes with "I consent for xxx to process my personal information in relation to ..."

Now, no legislation empowers to council to compel member of the public attending public meetings to leave a record of their name and address. If you want to of course then that's fine, but you clearly don't.

Given the lack of compulsion to supply the information, and the fact that you are not willing to supply it voluntarily, then I maintain they have no power to hold / process that data.

I could of course be wrong, but I work in IT, and I think a conversation with the Information Commissioners might be an enlightening experience.

Best of look anyway.


Anonymous said...

not sure where to put this but hey!! something's happened to meryl's smoothie shop in ammanford. when it opened last year, they were doing photocopying and printing 10 pence A4 sheet. 5p cheaper than the council library. apparently county hall do their printing for around 2p.. anyway, the printing and photocopying service is no longer available. it's been said smoothies is not making any money on printing. and they said they are not a charity (whatever that meant).. if they're not making money, what does that say about county hall?

meryl did write a personal letter that was published in the swguardian after it opened praising smoothies saying what a fantastic place it is. 2activ8. they were situated in wind st previously but ran into funding issues, closed, then smoothies opened a while after.

are they having some funding pulled again or was printing subsidized? now that's a thought...

then again photocopying in the co-op is 5p a sheet. (anon2)