‘Culture change needed at County Hall’

AM and MP comment on WLGA review at Carmarthenshire County Council

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards have warmly welcomed the publication of the ‘Governance Review’ undertaken by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), established as a result of Wales Audit Office reports in the public interest which stated payments made to the Carmarthenshire Council’s Chief Executive were ‘unlawful’.

The Plaid Cymru elected members said the report’s findings are constructive, present a clear way forward for the council, and vindicate the position they have taken in challenging the authority over the last two years.

Mr Thomas and Mr Edwards have been strong critics of the Labour and Independent leadership of the council. Their criticism has centred on the way in which legitimate debate is stifled, how the authority has been senior officer-led, and how public trust in the leadership of the council is at an all-time low.

Amongst other things, the WLGA review team confirms it heard that:

1. Internal systems of governance and constitutional processes were either not consistently followed or were perceived to be designed to constrain democratic debate and public engagement;
2. The perception has been that the Chief Executive and senior officers have dominated some of the decisions….to the extent that the balance of governance has become disjointed and the Council is perceived to be officer-led;
3. The Council’s member and officer leadership was viewed as defensive and did not encourage or respond constructively to challenge.
4. There was widespread concern about the way the Council conducted business from many internal and external stakeholders.

The WLGA report, Mr Thomas and Mr Edwards say, entirely justifies the strong position they have taken in speaking out on behalf of county residents.

AM Mr Thomas says a complete culture change is needed at the heart of the council and the democratic deficit needs to be addressed. MP Mr Edwards says a political reboot is needed at county hall if public trust is to be restored. He questioned whether the council leadership should remain in post.

Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:

“We warmly welcome the publication of the WLGA’s review. It is a fine piece of work and presents some positive and clear ways forward for the council. But let us be in no doubt, it is a very damaging report, and shines a spotlight on the toxic culture which has been allowed to fester under successive years of Labour and Independent political mismanagement.

“The concerns that Jonathan Edwards, myself and others have raised about the lack of democracy, openness and willingness to except criticism are completely justified in the publication of this report.

“If implemented, the WLGA recommendations will go a long way to help restore trust in the council. It can go a long way to restore the democratic deficit which has developed.
But the County Council is in desperate need for the strong political leadership which it has lacked for so many years. Regrettably, though, the current Labour and Independent Executive Board has been exposed as not being up to the job.”

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards added:

“The report will be welcomed by almost all in Carmarthenshire as an open and honest assessment of the worrying culture which has engulfed the council. It is a vindication of the independent free press we have in Carmarthenshire which has rightly held the local authority to account.

“The county council has had the same councillors at the helm of the council for the best part of a decade. It is a lack of political leadership, and certain over-bearing senior officers which have contributed significantly to the position in which the council finds itself today.

“As I said during the publication of the damning Wales Audit Office reports earlier this year, it is only with a complete political reboot and change of personnel will we be in a position to restore the good name of the county.

“Carmarthenshire, its rich heritage, history, culture and crucially, its future is more important than any one individual or any political party. The review’s findings should make those at the top of county hall seriously consider whether they are the best people to move Carmarthenshire forward.”