Thursday, 8 January 2009

Conflict of Interest

The National Assembly’s Health, Wellbeing, and Local Government Committee is currently conducting an enquiry into the effectiveness of the way in which county councils’ decisions are scrutinised by members of councils. As part of their enquiry, two Assembly Members recently visited Carmarthenshire to observe a Scrutiny Committee in action. The Assembly Committee has also invited formal comments on the way in which the process operates.

Plaid Cymru’s group leader on Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, has submitted evidence to the enquiry on behalf of his group.

“We have drawn attention to what we consider to be a fundamental weakness of the system,” said Cllr Hughes Griffiths. “The allocation of chairs of scrutiny committees is in the hands of the majority coalition on the council, and in effect, that means that the chairs are all appointed either by the Leader of the Labour Party or by the Leader of the Independent Party. They then receive an enhanced allowance for their work. In essence, their additional allowance is in the gift of the very people whom they are supposed to scrutinise.

“I do not seek to impugn the integrity of any of the chairs, but there is clearly a potential for a massive conflict of interest here. Any chair who dares to criticise any decision of the Council’s leadership, for instance, can be removed from office by the person criticised, and lose a significant sum of money as a result. That cannot be right and it cannot ensure fair, open, and unbiased scrutiny.”

Cllr Hughes Griffiths re-iterated Plaid’s position that all councillors from all groups should be working together for the good of the county, but added, “The Independent Party and the Labour Party have decided that they want to have a system where there is an Administration run by them, and an opposition. In that environment, scrutiny would be far more open and transparent if all the scrutiny chairs were appointed by and from the opposition councillors. That is the only way in which they can be truly independent of the coalition running the council.”

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