Thursday 21 January 2010

Decisions, decisions

Q. When is a decision not a decision?

A. When there is no decision to be taken.

The Executive Board of Carmarthenshire County Council wanted to close four council-run care homes, and were planning to start a formal consultation on the proposal, until a joint meeting of the two scrutiny committees on December 2nd, in response to strong Plaid opposition supported by some rebellious Labour councillors, rejected the idea, and decided to set up a task and finish group to consider the issue instead.

On 7th December, the county council issued a press release, which gave a rather different version of events. The press release stated "Consultation on the future of elderly care in Carmarthenshire is to stop pending work by a special cross party Task and Finish group. Members of the executive board took the decision at an informal meeting today following widespread concern for residents who are currently in residential homes".

Needless to say, Plaid Cymru councillors were quick to challenge the idea that any decisions could ever be taken at "an informal meeting". There is the little matter of the Local Government Act 1972, with its – for the council – inconvenient requirements for meetings to be properly convened, with notice given, and the public allowed to attend.

It turns out, however, that the 'informal meeting' did not actually take any decision at all. There was, after all, no decision to be taken – the scrutiny committees had already done that. That neatly absolves them of any suggestion of illegal decision-making.

It raises some other questions, however – such as why an official council press release states as fact something which turns out not to be entirely true. And why we, as taxpayers, are funding spin doctors to produce misleading and inaccurate statements.


neil said...

Does the administration still release official press statements on behalf of the Council before making them avaialble to all the elected members ? It seems undemocratic to release information outside of County hall whilst deliberatly keeping press statements from all 74 elected members. In the era of E mail etc, press statements should be released to members at the same time as being released to the media.

John Dixon said...


The simple answer is 'yes'; most members read about what the council's leadership is saying and doing when it appears in the press, not before.