Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Extraordinary meeting

The meeting is now available on archive.

For the record, the written version of the 'presentation' which included the 39 WLGA recommendations, and the watered down recommendations of the Cross-Party Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) finally appeared online at 10 am, as the meeting started.

This gave no one any idea of what was going to be discussed, nor any time for Members to gather any thoughts from their constituents. A poor start.

I don't think I need to remind anyone how this all came about, my most recent post here, gives the main background.

The outcome of the meeting was, in the end, much has previously been predicted on this blog. The aim, which was to be the 'most open and transparent council in Wales' was not met.

In a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment, the most important element, the 'change of culture' was dealt with very briefly in the introduction from the Chair of the CRWG, Cllr Terry Davies (Lab). Apparently, it had already happened. Must have passed me by...

Anyway, I am not entirely critical, some positive steps have been taken which may make useful headlines; Executive Board meeting will now be webcast and the Register of Members' Interest will be published online (as now required). An online petition service will soon appear on the website and at last, Councillors will now be allowed to ask supplementary questions in full council.

As predicted, the requirement for eight Members to sign a Motion on Notice has been dropped to the normal two. (This was always a silly idea) and Motions will now have to go to full council rather than be quietly kicked off to the Executive Board Members. well, in theory anyway as it should be remembered that it is the chief executive who sets the agenda...

As for Executive Board Member meetings, the agendas will now be published before, rather than after the meeting and backbench councillors will be allowed to attend as long as there are no exempt items and any three councillors will now be able to call-in Executive decisions.

These little steps are to be welcomed of course but they are not radical. They merely bring the council a small step closer to where they are supposed to be in the 21st Century, and are largely the inevitable reversal of the extreme measures brought in by Mark James to stifle debate.

The WLGA recommended that the public should be allowed to ask questions at Exec Board and Scrutiny meetings and for a time slot be allocated.

This was a bit too much so it was agreed that only public questions on Notice should be included. Cllr Darren Price remarked that the complexities of the constitution made this a difficult procedure for the public, or anyone, so needed further review.

The shadowy Business Management Group (no agenda, no minutes) has been shelved and and constitutional issues will now be dealt with by the CRWG which will remain as a group and sit a couple of times a year.

Hopefully, their agendas and minutes will be published from now on, unlike the last twelve meetings.
Membership of the CRWG does not include, however, unaffiliated Members. That needs to change.

The press and media protocol was approved at last week's meeting, I've made my view quite clear on that already. It has to do with leopards and spots.

One recommendation was for Members to be encouraged and trained to use social media, to improve public engagement.

At this point Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths chipped in and said that disappointingly only 18 members turned up to the training session but after listening to the officers he was even more wary of using it than he had before, not only could things 'not be removed' but the whole business was downright "DANGEROUS"

So, after that little speech I doubt if there'll be an increase in the pitifully low number of tweeting councillors.

The complacency I referred to earlier meant that no change would be made to the format and content of Minutes and sufficient guidance existed to deal with declarations of interest. Ms Rees Jones was drawing up further guidance on the reasons for exempting reports...or just further reasons maybe.

As for Minutes, Cllr Anthony Jones did wondered whether councillors who contributed to discussion could be named...and Calum Higgins suggested that each meeting could be audio recorded, presumably for accuracy in the Minutes. Further reviews were promised, or rather mumbled.

The collection of names for those attending the public gallery is here to stay. This was for 'Fire Safety' reasons, apparently. The fact remains that there were no concerns over fire safety prior to June least children won't be forced to sign illegal 'undertakings' any more.
The desire to identify and monitor observers in the Gallery is here to stay.

Which brings us on to the subject of allowing the public to film meetings, (for those interested, this can be seen from 1:19:46 into the meeting) The CRWG recommended, contrary to the WLGA, that the public could only film meeting which were already webcast.

To be fair the Plaid contingent recognised that this was an important principle and that the CRWG recommendation was a bit pointless, Cllr Dole stated that this decision, within the group, had not been unanimous.

Cllr Alun Lenny remarked that it was this kind of 'control freakery' which had got them to where they were today. He said that if they didn't allow the public to film all open meetings they were falling short of their transparency aim as other councils had managed to bring it in..

True to their original Motion back in 2012 and indeed recent legislation in England, Plaid put forward an amendment for the public to film all open meetings.

As you can imagine there were the usual objections, people might fall from the public gallery as they tried to film, and content might be 'edited', unlike the press or BBC who never edit anything I suppose... Cllr Terry Davies, the chair of this 'transparency' group was very concerned about how things "can happen on Twitter...and who knows what we could have...and that's the reason behind it".

Disappointingly the amendment was lost by 23 vote to 33 so I'm not certain if all the Plaid Members voted for it. Their coalition 'partners' certainly didn't..

So the upshot of all that is that the public can only film meetings which the council are already webcasting. Unbelievable.

There was some discussion over the timing of meetings. The WLGA had suggested a survey of Members to see if times, which are never in the late afternoon or evening, could be changed to encourage a wider variety of people to stand for council, younger people, working folk, etc something the Welsh Government is particularly keen on.

A survey took place and 44 out of 74 councillors responded. Most of the 44 wanted the times to remain as they were. Despite several councillors saying at the meeting that they didn't agree with this, as the survey had been 'democratic' the status quo would remain for now.

Veteran councillor Tom Theophilus piped up as he was worried about having to drive through the snow in Winter to get to his evening meals. He eventually corrected himself to 'evening meetings'...Good to know councillors have our interests at heart...

One of the recommendations put forward by the WLGA was for all councillors to be given copies of exempt reports. This enabled efficient scrutiny and the possibility of call-in. The CRWG decided that only leaders, opposition leaders and scrutiny chairs should be supplied with copies.

An interesting discussion ensued, kicked off by Cllr Darren Price. He claimed that he was shocked to have seen 'leaked' details of last week's exempt report on the link road funding on a 'local blog' a few hours after the meeting...and for this reason he was going to agree that the release of exempt reports should be confined to those recommended by the CRWG, and not all councillors.

Other councillors chimed in and Kevin Madge wittered on that 'things had appeared on websites' and had prevented investors investing in the county, "developers run away" he said.
Quite an extraordinary claim and I wonder exactly what evidence he has of that...

Cllr Anthony Jones demanded an investigation, ombudsman style, over the matter of the leak.

I'm not sure what 'local blog' Cllr Price was referring to but it could possibly have been this one. Last week I published an update to the news on the link road, it was after the council issued a press release on the decision.

The only difference was that I included the (bare) figures and the fact they were borrowing over £3m. This was undoubtedly in the public interest and should have been disclosed by the council themselves in the press release.

I presume that it was potential criticism or embarrassment over borrowing money for this project, given the current financial constraints, that they'd been trying to avoid...

As for 'leaks', it goes with the territory. As for sources, I suggest they concentrate their 'outrage' on the plural rather than the singular, and not confine it just to councillors either...

The meeting drew to a close and, in terms of stage management, it had been a success. The Constitution will be "tweaked" by Linda Rees Jones in time for the September meeting. Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths thanked everyone, and they all shot off for lunch at 12.30.

Although this meeting had been the result of a cross-party group, I thought that the new Plaid leadership would seize the moment to express their intention for real change but they didn't. In the event they seemed tense and uneasy. At least Peter Hughes Griffiths remembered to mention that it was an important meeting.

My overall impression was that little will change...and it never will whilst those responsible for creating and sustaining the toxic culture remain. 


Anonymous said...

It is early days I suppose and perhaps Plaid are trying to tread carefully at first before sweeping away all the cobwebs that still remain.Give them a chance but if they don't their credibility will be lost for ever.I hope they realise that.

Cneifiwr said...

Disappointing, but with so many dinosaurs on the council, perhaps hardly surprising. If Plaid had tried to be more radical, they would have been voted down, just as happened over the ridiculous filming rules.

Kevin Madge's claim that investors had been scared off by things written on "websites" (blogs?) is interesting. He has form when it comes to throwing out accusations not backed up by evidence, e.g. Sainsbury's.

The council has quite a track record of either not doing due diligence on 'partners' or perhaps just turning a blind eye. All the blogs and the Carmarthen Herald have done is a little light digging to turn up information that is in the public domain and which does not always cast a very good light on some of the companies and people hoping to cash in on the council's pet projects.

If a little exposure to sunshine was enough to cause some of them to skidaddle, perhaps Kevin Madge should be thanking the bloggers....

Anonymous said...


“err, not quite sure if we’re really ready for that just yet - let’s set up a committee to report back in a couple of years time and hope everyone forgets about it.”

Anonymous said...

Ass you say, a few positives, but a very disappointing meeting really. I had really hoped that Plaid would be stepping up to the mark, as they were quite vociferous in opposition. I really do hope matters look up for Plaid, or votes are likely to be adversely affected come the next election, especially since they are now so closely affiliated to the Independents..

Anonymous said...

What this council really needs is councillors that are more in touch with reality. The only way that is going to happen will be for the current batch of dinosaurs to be removed, retired and replaced with young blood.

To be critical of 'modern' technology and in fear of social media simply demonstrates how out of touch these people are. Computers have been around for a good few years now, the internet too. If they cannot understand what appears on Twitter, Facebook etc in their name is literally under their control, how then, can we have any faith in them understanding more complex matters discussed in chamber?

With the forthcoming mergers it will be a good time to have a clean sweep and remove the tiresome toxic culture. With luck it will be determined the need for a chief executive will no longer be required and we can bid farewell to chief Wiggum (aka mark james) without the need for a pay off. God knows, he's screwed us for enough already.

Anonymous said...

My mind's eye has summoned up dinosaurs intent on covering their arses. Not a pretty sight.

I do hope that Plaid don't become enthralled by Meryl, Pam and Mark.

Anonymous said...

I watched all the broadcast, apart from the tech breaks where I missed the inputs from Meryl and Pam - my sugar babes.

You really should give Plaid a chance to change things. They have, IMO, at least made a good start. It will not happen overnight (and speaking as someone who has worked in a senior capacity in a big multi corp and had to get shot of a crap CE) this pace is normal, painful progress.
But I do get the impression from your blog that you won't be satisfied until you get your personal grievances with CCC are sorted, so It would be helpful if you would give us readers your precise agenda or manifesto on what exactly you would like to see from the new CCC.
I was never in doubt from Cneifiwr's blog that he/she was partial to PC, but he seemed not to have a pesronal axe to grind.
If you grind an axe too many times it becomes blunt. And this is the dilemma your blog faces as the straw men diminish.

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 00:07

To respond briefly, I don't have axes to grind, there are outstanding issues from recent litigation which I will continue to pursue but it is not a 'hidden' agenda, far from it, I have made my views very clear.

I am not politically affiliated, or motivated but I certainly welcome any changes towards greater transparency and integrity.

To put it simply, I have no manifesto I wish to impose on anyone, these are my honest opinions and this blog will continue for as long as I find I have something to write about.

And finally, I think every council needs a blogger ;)

Anonymous said...

You are quite right Caebrwyn.Why should people not pursue honesty and truth? This is something that is recognised by all who comment on your blog.This is the first time I have ever read such strongly worded criticism.You have always posted clear evidence of
what has really been the agenda of Mark James and his followers.An agenda I add which affects people of Carmarthenshire and not to their advantage.Ignore this kind of comment
and continue giving everyone an insight into how our tax is being squandered on legal fees and pet projects.There are many people in Carmarthenshire like you and why should not they pursue their grievances?

Anonymous said...

I have always found your posts to be well researched and factual. If people don't feel comfortable with facts it is they who have a problem.
The problem with CCC is there is so much to criticise that it's not a case of any one person having an axe to grind, it's just plain necessary. If it weren't for bloggers, with most of the local press under threat, we wouldn't get to know just how Mark James controls the whole shebang. There are too many of us who have suffered because of his dogma, so carry on doing a splendid job for us all!

Anonymous said...

Re: Exempt Reports

It appears that the council could be on dodgy ground and open to legal challenge if they restrict the sight of exempt reports to only leaders, opposition leaders and scrutiny chairs.

There’s an interesting article on entitled ‘Councillors - rights of access to information’, here is part of it…

“The common law ‘need to know’
Under common law principles councillors have the right to access information held by their authority where it is reasonably necessary to enable the member to properly perform their duties as a councillor.
However, if the councillor’s motive for seeing documents is indirect, improper or ulterior this may be raised as a bar to their entitlement. Councillors are not, therefore, allowed to go off on a ‘fishing expedition’ through their council’s documents. If a councillor is a member of a particular committee or sub-committee, then they have the right to inspect documents relating to the business of that committee or sub-committee. If not a member of that committee or sub-committee, the councillor would have to show good cause why sight of them is necessary to perform their duties (See R v. Clerk to Lancashire Police Committee ex parte Hook [1980] Q.B. 603).”

Anonymous said...

"Cllr Anthony Jones demanded an investigation, ombudsman style, over the matter of the leak."
I wonder if he will be doing the same on a councillors' emails being read anonymously without the proper procedure being followed?

Anonymous said...

Good one anonymous @20:26

Redhead said...

I am always bemused by that paragraph above that says, if you are not on a particular committee you cannot see certain documents - why? You are a councillor elected to serve your county - EVERYTHING is relevant. Why would documents be concealed from you but not others? And why can't you go on "fishing expeditions"? How else will you uncover things officers and/or other councillors are preventing you from seeing - investigative journalists do this all rhe time - look at what journalists uncovered about FIFA this way. If there are no fish, fair enough - if they are they need to be caught.

It is a total smokescreen. If one councillor can see it, all councillors should be able to see it.

No wonder this Government is intent on getting rid of the Human Rights Act and watering down the Freedom of Information Act. And if we leave the EU we will lose Environmental Impacr Regulation rights too.

Anonymous said...

"Hear Hear" Redhead and please carry on keeping us informed Jacqui!

Anonymous said...

Sorry forgot my usual sign off for "Hear Hear" comment

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)