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After noticing a pointless question about tourism figures from a Plaid Cymru backbencher to the Plaid administration at last month’s full council meeting, I see there are two more highly suspect, planted questions on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. One question concerns the affordable housing ‘journey’ and the other relates to school performance. This is a worrying trend.Spontaneity and topical debate was stopped a couple of years ago when the chief executive removed Any Other Business, and relegated all the committee minutes to the tail end of the agenda, just for ‘noting’. Much of each meeting is now taken up with death-by-power point presentations, leaving little time for any serious debate. It is largely a sanitised, polite and dull affair.

There are usually a handful of tightly controlled ‘Councillor Questions’ and Motions covering issues which are often unrelated directly to the Council, and, as the administration has seven days to come up with an answer to any questions, not exactly cutting edge stuff. Public questions have dwindled to zero. The agenda is, of course, controlled by the chief executive, as is the council itself.
Full council meetings have become little more than a platform for propaganda, a showpiece of spin and half truths. 

This latest trend, where a Plaid councillor asks a Plaid Executive Board Member to ‘explain’ the ‘wonderful success’ of something-or-other, is such a blatant piece of propaganda as to be laughable.
Wikipedia informs me, reliably I’m sure, that in Australian politics, such questions are know as ‘Dorothy Dixers’Opposition questions can be equally staged of course, although last month a Labour councillor came up with an interesting supplementary. His question, on homelessness and affordable housing prompted a lengthy response from Emlyn Dole’s sister-in-law, Exec Board Member Linda Evans who waxed lyrical over their achievements and commitment to accommodate those less fortunate than themselves. (perhaps Emlyn’s got a couple of spare rooms at Pontyberem’s very own Southfork..).

He then asked how many young people were currently holed up in unsatisfactory HMOs. Ah, there were some, she said, unavoidable, I’m afraid, er, something we’re addressing, she faltered.
Mind you, she could always ask Mr James for advice on homelessness and evictions, he knows a thing or two about Possession Orders…

As for the council’s Scrutiny Committees as hotbeds of executive questioning, they were recently subject to a review by the Wales Audit Office which found that they were still officer-led; Executive Board members were not being held accountable and presentations from external bodies took up a disproportionate amount of time. They found little evidence that Scrutiny took forward either internal audit or Wales Audit Office reports; public engagement was minimal and the meetings are not webcast; some members wandered out before the end of the meetings and attendance at training sessions was low.

Of course Caebrwyn can think of lots of questions to put to full council, from plunging the county into terminal debt for Mr James’ Wellness Dream, to wasteful complaints to the Ombudsman, to the latest nonsense over the unlawful libel indemnities. And everything in between. Though I was one of the first, in over ten years, to ask a public question back in 2015.

If political groups want to put out propaganda, which obviously they all do, and at any opportune moment, they have their own party machine and means to do it, and in Carmarthenshire, the current, and indeed previous administration, also have a well-resourced, and publicly funded press office who will happily oblige.
Whilst an element of political grandstanding and cross-party bickering at full council meetings is to be expected, full council meetings are not the place for these questions and take the already dire proceedings to a new low.
It would seem that the Plaid leadership are perhaps composing the ‘questions’ for their own councillors to read out. This is not what ‘Councillor Questions’ are for and are an abuse of the provision.

Perhaps it’s time for the great Carmarthenshire public to get back down to County Hall ask a few questions ourselves.