Thursday 17 December 2009

Council contortions

In trying to 'sell' the proposals to close four residential homes in the county a few weeks ago, Carmarthenshire's Independent Party council leader was at great pains to try and explain that it wasn't really about money at all; it was about the changing nature of the demand, and the need to help people to stay in their own homes.

Her tune this week is rather different. According to both Cllr Gravell and her deputy, Labour Cllr Kevin Madge, the choice is a stark one - close these four homes or sack a thousand staff. The message is primarily aimed at the 'back-benchers' on the council, telling them that they have no choice but to support the council's plans. It's not true, of course; but will it work?

Actually, it's not really aimed at all the backbenchers either. The Executive Board know full well that the Plaid opposition will not support their plans, but as long as all their own members vote with them, that doesn't matter. And that's the real nub of the issue - they can no longer depend on Labour councillors blindly following the Independent Party's lead on the council. Four Labour members - including the chair of their group - voted with Plaid at the scrutiny committee; they simply couldn't bring themselves to vote to close care homes. There are eight backbench Labour Councillors on the council, and if they all vote with Plaid at a full council meeting, they will defeat the administration's plans once and for all.

This week's alarm story is little more than an attempt to bully and browbeat those eight Labour councillors into supporting the closure of these homes; in a very real sense, the future of these homes now depends on those eight members. Will they have the courage of their convictions, or will they buckle under pressure? This is a critical moment for Labour in Carmarthenshire, and it could represent a turning point for the council. The challenge to Labour is simple - do they paper over the cracks, or do the cracks turn into a chasm?

Incidentally, this is not the only sign of panic breaking out in the council's administration. As Plaid's councillors have pointed out on their blog, the Executive Board has resorted to taking key decisions in 'informal meetings'; meetings where no agenda is issued in advance and the press, public, and other councillors are not even notified that they are happening. Highly irregular, and almost certainly illegal. This is an administration on the ropes.

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