Monday, 17 February 2014

Carmarthenshire...and Derbyshire

Whilst we wait for further details to emerge regarding the actual terms and conditions of the Chief Executive's current position having 'stood down' temporarily, it appears that it is only the full council which can force a 'suspension'. As far as I am aware, the Plaid group are putting forward a Motion for the meeting on the 27th to call for exactly that, as well as the removal of Kevin Madge, Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer.

Throughout recent posts I have mentioned the circumstances around the counterclaim and the tactical purpose behind it rather than any 'exceptional circumstance'. Relative to that, a comment on Cllr Jacob Williams' blog ( a detailed account of Friday's Pembrokeshire fiasco) from Carmarthenshire Councillor Sian Caiach is very interesting indeed.

Remember, under the 'Derbyshire' rule, councils cannot sue, nor counter sue for libel and neither can they use an officer to bring the action to avoid breaking that rule. If they do, then the counterclaim is not just unlawful due to the public funding, but an abuse of power, and the action an Abuse of Process. I have underlined that particular section of Cllr Caiach's comment;

Sian Caiach says: 
Sunday 16th February, 2014 at 11:38 PM 
In Carmarthenshire, where I have the privilege of being a really independent Councillor, [People First, Bell's principles etc] our keen press office has already made several official press releases as to what the opinions of “Councillors and officers” and various leading members are on the two unlawful payment issues on our patch. When I objected to being included in the blanket statement it was altered to still suggest a majority of Councillors were in support of our CEO and Executive Board decisions. 
In response to a Plaid Cymru motion of no confidence in our chief exec and leader, former leader and one of our deputy leaders, Mr Kerr might find more evidence of predetermination on the ruling group side than the opposition. 
Our monitoring officer has mentioned to me that given my willingness to give evidence in the libel trial against the chief exec, arguing that his action was against free speech, I could be infringing our code of conduct, [I didn't actually give evidence in court as there were no questions from CCC who accepted my written evidence] but at the time I’m afraid I believed that, although the legal action was unfair, the decision to fund the CEO’s counter-suit was lawful as the executive board had told us it was a perfectly legal loophole way of allowing our council to counter-sue bloggers using an officer as a proxy. It was explained to us as a legitimate way of putting pressure on the blogger to withdraw her original legal action. 
I don’t think the white envelope trick is likely but if it is played, considering the alleged goings on in Labour and Indy recent group meetings, might Plaid Cymru have an impressive majority as the only major group relatively untainted by predetermination? 
Mr Kerr may point out that the uncanny way groups vote together is enough to show more than predisposition, but in that case we would be inquorate and could all go home before the vote of confidence! I’m sure we will be asking for a lot of information before we start

The fall out from the bizarre meeting in Pembrokeshire continues with speculation over declarations of interest which may or may not be deployed to manipulate votes in Carmarthenshire on the 27th. As Cllr Caiach says, the ruling group might want to look carefully at that tactic as it could easily backfire.

And if they're going down that particular road, Head of legal and Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones not only co-wrote the report to the Executive Board on the 23rd Jan 2012, along with the Director of Resources and input from Mr James, but was a witness for Mr James during the trial.

The relevant section of the Localism Act, which aimed to allow Councillors to speak and vote on issues they had previously campaigned or spoke out on, actually applies to Wales and the explanatory note to the Welsh Assembly Consent Motion reads;
'Predetermination occurs where someone has a closed mind, with the effect that they are unable to apply their judgment fully and properly to an issue requiring a decision. Decisions made by councillors later judged to have predetermined views have been quashed. The clause makes it clear that if a councillor has given a view on an issue, this does not show that the councillor has a closed mind on that issue, so that if a councillor has campaigned on an issue or made public statements about their approach to an item of council business, he or she will be able to participate in discussion of that issue in the council and to vote on it if it arises in an item of council business requiring a decision.'

If you haven't done so already, please sign Rhodri Glyn Thomas' petition here;
"We do not believe Carmarthenshire County Council should spend any more of taxpayers’ money to challenge the findings of the Wales Audit Office through the courts.
We, the undersigned, do not have confidence in the leadership of the County Council."

Update 21:29 The now infamous Pembrokeshire meeting from Friday is now available on archive and definitely worth watching to see just how utterly bizarre local government has become in west Wales.

..and Mrs Angry, of Broken Barnet fame has again provided us with her observations; excellent as ever.


The Budget
With all the goings-on going on in County Hall over the past week or two it's easy to overlook the fact that the budget debate is coming up on Wednesday. For the first time, and hopefully not the last, it will be webcast for all to see.

The press office, in conjunction with the Executive Board has been busy over recent weeks trying to push forward some badly needed positive spin, unfortunately their efforts continue to be overshadowed by current events.

A couple of week ago Kevin Madge announced, in what sounded like a magnanimous gesture (and to cover the Labour group's failure to support calls for a Living Wage) that the lowest paid workers would have a pay rise. In fact, by removing the lowest point of the wage scale this was merely bringing the authority in line with the Chancellor's call for the minimum wage to be increased to £7 per hour to bring it in line with inflation. So although this is no doubt welcome, it has nothing to do with Kev's generosity.

I would also imagine that the lowest paid council workers are looking at recent developments concerning the CEO's remuneration with astonishment.

Several unpopular proposals have also been very recently removed....around the same time as the auditor's reports came out. As for the rest of it, we'll have to see what happens on Wednesday, the full list of documents are on the agenda here.
If the council are determined not to accept the auditor's findings on the 27th the matter is likely to go to court, not something I imagine, which has been budgeted for...


Angharad said...

This County Council really needs a whistleblower.

caebrwyn said...

I know there are plenty of potential whistleblowers out there. I am well aware of the fear of repercussions in Carmarthenshire and I've lost count of the number of council employees who have contacted me over the years, but if there was ever a time to do it, it is right now.

Anonymous said...

Until the Council changes it's attitude towards whistleblowers it is not easy.