Friday 4 December 2015

Declarations of lack of interest

On November 11th 2015 a farcical performance played out over the consideration of two motions. Both were very similar condemning the UK Government for its new legislation on Trade Unions. Both ended by urging the County Council to write to the Westminster Government asking for the proposed legislation to be dropped.

A little late, however. Parliament had actually considered the matter and voted in favour of it the day before Carmarthenshire County Council debated the issue. So we had two motions. both of which were pointless, one of which was proposed by Plaid and the other by Labour (presumably because God forbid the two parties been seen agreeing even on an issue they completely agreed on), ostensibly asking the British government to not do something they had already done. To be fair, when you consider the antiquated wage gap issues and broadband access problems the county is rife with even as 2016 is almost upon us, this was pretty damn speedy for CCC.

To add the circus, the declarations of interest removed a large number of Councillors from the show. Now, declarations of interest are very critical in the quasi-judicial fields of council such as the planning and licencing committees where Councillors might be influenced by their own interests or those of close friends or family to the detriment of fair play. A prejudicial interest where the Councillor is not going to hear the evidence and make a fair judgement must be avoided.

However, the chair seems to have interpreted the discussion on the Trade Union Act as one which, although again completely pointless, demanded only that members of trades unions left the room. This included even retired honorary members of trades unions who were no longer workers.

No employers, the actual beneficiaries of the planned changes, were asked to declare an interest and leave.

In an attempt to not let us look like real idiots (a doomed enterprise from the start, I admit) I suggested that both proposers accept an amendment asking the County Council to write to the First Minister, not David Cameron, as Carwyn Jones had hinted that Welsh Government could probably mitigate the effects of this Bill by local Welsh legislation.

The chair, remembering that I had declared myself a member of Unison and was thus Tainted, ruled that I had to leave immediately and should not have dared to speak on the issue. I suggested that perhaps the two groups proposing the motion could amend them as they wished and left. Watching the webcast, an attempt was made to do so but the chair ruled it out of order. Yet another hour of farce at County Hall, where common sense goes to die.

There is a more serious point. Councillors not only waste time declaring non-prejudicial interests but also forget that if they chose to leave the meeting their electorate is not represented in that discussion or decision. If a Councillor has a daughter who is a nurse in his local hospital and that hospital is earmarked for closure, should he absent himself from the discussion even if there was overwhelming support from his own constituents for the hospital to be saved? In so many cases we all have some form of "interest," after all. How many of us use NHS hospitals, public transport, have kids that go to state schools, are employers or employees and thus intrinsically have a stake in decisions involving these matters?

It is absurd that some Councillors who swore to fight for their voters will walk out of their responsibility at the drop of a hat. Did you vote for your representative because they were, say, a teacher, and as a teacher yourself you wanted someone who would understand your needs and work to make them a reality? Too bad, while the debates are happening they'll be out in the hall.

Siân Caiach

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