Following the events of #DaftArrest I continue, to the annoyance of many at Carmarthenshire County Council no doubt, to keep abreast of the latest happenings over in the People’s Democratic Republic of Carmarthenshire – and this month’s full council meeting contained a bit of a doozie!
Last month, we started seeing Councillors ask questions in the full council meeting. The format is very simple – a member asks a pre-prepared question, and the leader responds with an equally pre-prepared answer.
Now, in most public forums, having asked a question, the questioner is afforded the right to ask a supplementary question – usually used to respond to information provided in the initial answer. There are a lot of good reasons for this, and somewhere near the top of the list is that it “gets things done” – you don’t have to wait until the next meeting to be able to respond to the information provided. This prevents many items of business from being discussed over the course of several meetings, which of course brings benefits in terms of the speed of decision making. Decisions taken early can mean cost savings through a lack of uncertainty… It also, from a transparency point of view, puts whoever is proving the answer in the position not being able to have an evasive response pre-prepared. Many people would consider this practice therefore to be a good thing.
Sadly, the ruling junta at the Council appear to take a somewhat different view – that being that since the standing orders don’t state that supplementary questions are allowed, they therefore are not allowed. Now, to be clear, the standing orders make no pronouncement either way – they are simply being interpretted, in common with many dictatorial regimes around the world, as meaning that “something is only ever allowed if we say it is.”. Followers of the #DaftArrest case might find this eerily familiar, as the whole case started with powers that be deciding that filming Council meetings was prohibited on the same grounds.
As I pointed out in the comments of one of the local blogs, there is nothing in the standing orders that entitle the Chief Executive to attend the meeting if he has failed to strip off first and paint his body blue like a smurf – though somewhat mercifully it seems that common sense can be applied in this case. Why not in others then?
But I’ve saved the best until last – because at this month’s meeting of the council, the councillors themselves took a vote on whether or not they should be able to ask supplementary questions – and voted NO! This wasn’t about such questions being mandatory – merely “should we have the right to ask them?”.
The Council is ran by a coalition of the Labour Party and the “Independents” – effectively a party themselves. Someone needs to be asking the Labour Party, a party which after all would like us to seriously consider the prospect of offering them the opportunity to form the next government, just what the holy fuck they are doing here – because their councillors supported this vote not to allow supplementary questions. On what grounds? When, as a councillor representing your electorate, is it a bad thing to be able to ask a question? The answer seems to be when the ruling cabal might find said questioning and the scrutiny it brings inconvenient.
Is this not, as a councillor, precisely when you damn well SHOULD be asking questions?