Saturday, July 26, 2008

Standards Committee - a lack of transparency

The choice of a community councils representative on the Neath Port Talbot standards committee came before full council on Thursday. But there was no real choice: it was pushed through without discussion on the council leader's say-so.

(Regular readers will remember that the standards committee has not actually met since last October, when the last external member left. The failure to recruit replacement external members since then has meant that a backlog of cases has built up. External volunteers have now been found, leaving the choice of a CC representative as the last piece in the jigsaw.)

There were three candidates for two posts: committee member, plus one reserve. The candidates were the town mayor for Neath (Labour); a nomination from Dyffryn Clydach CC (Plaid); and one from Coedffranc (Independent).

At the end of a session on possibly the hottest morning of the year so far, prolonged by a slide-show of a (mostly) positive review of the borough's social services followed by mutually laudatory speeches, members were understandably keen to get away for a spot of lunch.

So when council leader Derek Vaughan said that he knew all three candidates, but that clearly the mayor had to be the best, and that he thought that the Plaid community councillor should be reserve (not for the first time, apparently), Labour and Plaid members muttered "aye" and started putting their papers together.

It was left to Liberal Democrats to call "no" and vainly request a vote.

Three questions arise:
- why, when one Labour councillor declared an interest in knowing the unsuccessful candidate, did not the leader excuse himself? His recommended candidate was the mayor of his own community council;
- why should a man with no party affiliation (and, we are told, a respected former officer of both Port Talbot and Neath Port Talbot councils with 30 years of public service) be rejected out-of-hand for standards committee membership, where a non-party attitude is surely welcome?;
- why did not Plaid and the Independent group join the Liberal Democrats in calling for at least a vote on the matter?

It may be that the two successful candidates were genuinely the best. However, the manner in which they were chosen, without discussion or even the merest show of hands, must cast a slight shadow over their selection.
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