Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Exempt reports flourishing in County Hall


One of the recognised drawbacks of webcasting council meetings is the possibility that more agenda items may be discussed behind closed doors than is really necessary. This is particularly prevalent where councils practice control-freakery to the extent Carmarthenshire does. The chief executive currently approves council and executive board agendas....well, most things in fact.

Executive Board meetings have always been jolly get-togethers, thorny issues ironed out before the public meetings and a pleasant round of rubber-stamping, mutual back-slapping and brown-nosing is had by all. Witnessed perhaps one or two members of the public who wandered in by mistake, only to find themselves escorted to the public gallery, and maybe a local reporter or two, there was not a lot to worry about.

Now the meetings are webcast, the scene remains the same but there has been a subtle difference, the first part of the meeting seems largely confined to the mundane, or, for effect, the latest exciting, (very exiting even), project which no one thought to ask the Carmarthenshire taxpayer if they wanted. Then, without discussion, the webcast is switched off and whatever is decided, and it's usually another raid on the taxpayer, emerges in the form of council press office spin, or appears weeks later in a cryptic sentence in the minutes.

Exec Board member Mair Stephens (Ind) uses an orange exempt report as a fan

As I said earlier, there have been seven exempt reports over the last four Exec Board meetings and next Monday's meeting sees yet another two.

One of these concerns the latest very, very exiting project, the 'Wellness Centre' at Delta Lakes, Llanelli, led by the council but with so many 'partners', (not least of all the super dooper visionary Swansea Bay City Region Board, and the health board, via 'ARCH', with its spare millions), the audit trail will be sparser then usual, if that's possible. Of course you can never have too many office complexes or private healthcare clinics, just what Llanelli needs...  I have mentioned this before here, but there is not a clue as to what is up for a decision on Monday. One press release put the wonderful plan at £60m, another at £100m.

We realise that most decisions of any importance are actually made in the Presidential Suite, with Emlyn Dole, or his predecessor dutifully polishing the CEO's CBE quietly in the corner, and indeed, some information may be 'commercially sensitive' but one of the findings of the WLGA governance report was for the council to review it's criteria and guidance over exemptions, prompted of course by the libel indemnity and pension scam scandals.
This seems to have happened, but with the opposite intent and quite the reverse effect...aside, that is, from the occasional leak.

Recent meetings have seen, for example, exempt discussions around the Pantycelyn school site and cyclepaths, this time it's a multi-million pound taxpayer draining plan for Llanelli, a plan likely to make the council's generosity to the Scarlets pale into comparison.
It is a reminder that things have not improved since the infamous 'top secret public toilet transfer report' from a couple of years back, refused even when pressed under FOI.




Finally, Police Commissioner, Christopher Salmon, reflecting on his recent defeat, had a few surprisingly frank words to say about Carmarthenshire Council...and so true;

"Carmarthenshire County Council. Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hoards property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."

17 comments:

Ken Haylock said...

"Carmarthenshire County Council. Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors." - Christopher Salmon, Conservative, Dyfed Powys Police & Crime Commissioner 2012-2016

That looks like a masthead quote right there!

Anonymous said...

Wow good for Christopher Salmon. He made it clear when in office he was no fan of CCC, so no surprise he stuck true to his beliefs. Let's hope the new PCC is as honest and has the guts to stand up and be counted inthe same way. I always believed Christopher Salmon had integrity and I was right.

Anonymous said...

Blimey, I wish I'd voted for him now! If he'd canvassed using that sort of language he'd have romped home.

Anonymous said...

This is the same Christopher Salmon who took away the helicopter, refused to renew CCTV , bullied his subordinates and treated them with contempt . Was elected 4 years go with a very low turnout as most of the parties did not approve of political police controller . He now seems such a great guy to someone people

Anonymous said...

I think he had the most difficult task in a brand new post. He had all the trials and tribulations to work through in a newly created job. It could not have been easy. He is a decent man, a man with integrity. Of course there are things he would get wrong,but there is a lot he got right. He listened to the public and addressed many issues that would never have been addressed if it were not for him. He most certainly fulfilled that part of his post. I believe labour voters switched to Plaid, and it is a shame that politics played such a role in voting for this position. Only time will tell if the new PCC listens to the public in the same way as Christopher Salmon did, after all that is a huge part of the job.

Ken Haylock said...

The new PCC seems to be an ex Dyfed Powys staffer and wears a Plaid Cymru rosette. I suspect, without knowing anything else about him beyond those two facts that this basically means that the fount of independent governance in Dyfed Powys Police has just gone native, meaning that the force will return to the important business of policing in its own interests rather than in the interests of the people of the force area.

I hope I'm wrong about that...

Anonymous said...

I agree Christopher Salmon was a man with principles and he was there for the public. He had regular surgeries where he would listen to any problems that people might have involving the police. He was often out and about talking to people trying to improve relations between the police and the public. God knows thats needed. This was one of the reasons this role was created. There is no doubt he fulfilled that part of the job admirably. He had no links to the police prior to taking on that role unlike the new PCC. It feels as tho he list out because he was Tory.

Tim Hart said...

The Councillors have got the wrong end of the stick with this exemption business. It's not the reports that should be exempt, it's the Councillors. That is, exempt from holding any kind of public office.

Martin Milan said...

I've never understood why the Police and Crime Commissioner should be a political appointment in the first place...

Anonymous said...

I believed at the time of voting for the new PCC it was wrong to show which party the nominees were affiliated to.

Ken Haylock said...

Indeed. The new guy made a virtue of his police staff past, even slipping it onto the ballot paper, obviously implying that he felt (and he hoped voters might agree) that experience of police intelligence analysis in general and of the culture within Dyfed Powys in particular was a positive quality in a PCC. The Lib Dem also had policing experience, but a) He didn't manage to include mention of it on the ballot paper so most voters wouldn't have known, and b) those who did know would have found that he seemed fixated on harassing motorists 'for their own good', which wasn't as popular as he hoped, clearly. Also, Lib Dem. Me, for reasons stated above, I'm not sure I want the police force to be overseen by one of its own... I deeply regret that the likes of Simon Weston are disqualified from the role, for example.

Ken Haylock said...

The problem with things like the helicopter & CCTV is the opportunity cost. I imagine that manning a CCTV control room could be done 24x7 by council staff, as it is elsewhere, so the fact that the police decide not to spend their budget on it does not reflect necessarily the idea that the old PCC thinks CCTV is a waste of money, it probably just means that keeping an extra patrol car on the roads of the force area 24x7 is a better use of _his_ funds, for example. Carmarthenshire's spin department will no doubt have been very keen to explain that they can't staff up the CCTV control room when there are important evangelical bowling allies to be built and rugby teams to be subsidised, and that the the former PCC obviously therefore wants residents raped in their beds. Presumably the idiot(s) who previously spent all the forces money on white elephant PFI deals for facilities the force doesn't even want or need gets off scot free in this analysis? I can see why a helicopter might be useful for a rural police force covering such a vast area, but running their own helicopter is a huge financial commitment for a police force with 500 officers total... and no doubt there was a lot they were able to do with that money, even though also no doubt the force loved their shiny flying eggbeater toy...

Anonymous said...

In Carmarthenshire which has the bigger towns in Dyfed Powys it was the local authority paying for the staff to monitor , the issue was the camera needed to be updated as their were not up to digital spec The conservative refused to pay for it A helicopter was considered essential for policing a large rural area and DPP were amongst the first to instal one but the conservative thought a fixed wing would be sufficient - there re lots of airports spare in rural Wales

Anonymous said...

At last someone with experience of dealing with the Council. It a shame he didn't make his feelings known during his PCC role. Many Council Officer's feel the same but are prevented by the bullying of Senior Management in discussing the failings of the Council

Ken Haylock said...

It's not _The Conservative_ who is paying for this stuff, it's the council tax payers via the police precept. And for a given precept they can have more of one thing at the expense of less of another. After Dyfed Powys record of managing capital projects, I'm not surprised he told councils that if they wanted to upgrade their CCTV they were welcome to but it wasn't a _policing_ priority. After all, telling a rural farmer that the reason there was nobody available to come and see him in person and look at evidence when both his tractors were stolen was because the money that would have funded enough officers to do it was spent on a system most commonly used to catch people not bagging up their dog's poo in Carmarthen Town Centre, a town already well served by police officers 24x7, is not going to end well. As with the helicopter you would have to decide what else you could get with the money that you would have had to spend on the CCTV upgrade project. Don't they have the South Wales chopper available on call if they need it?

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how the new PCC gets along with CCC. This will be the test. Will he become another nodding dog?

Anonymous said...

The council could have taken over the CCTV monitoring system but when Mr Salmon withdrew his portion of funding they took the opportunity of stopping theirs and claimed they were ploughing it into meals on wheels. Mr salmon is to blame entirely for this because his portion of the overall annual cost was very modest.

The helicopter was enormously useful for the force and saved thousand of police hours in search etc. If you check the service the force now has to buy into is very very patchy. The vast majority of calls for air assistance are refused because the aircraft we have access to is based in Cardiff. Obviously it is being used in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport etc.

Mr salmon was not a success cos he went out and about - anybody can do that. he failed because he stopped CCTV and the helicopter and has paid the political price. His musings on defeat are merely sour grapes from a well beaten candidate. he will learn that the election was won in the working class areas of Carmarthen, Llanelli and Amman valley - not the rolling hills and quaint villages of Radnorshire.