Claims backbench councillors in Gwynedd ‘shut out’ of decision making during lockdown spark debate
Claims that backbench members have been “shut out” of the decision making process during the coronavirus lockdown has seen a mixed response from fellow councillors.
Referring to the authority’s Annual Governance Statement, Llais Gwynedd member Alwyn Gruffydd took exception to a section of the report claiming that the low number of responses to various public consultations suggested there was “no great aspiration” amongst the public to hold the council to account.”
Cllr Gruffydd, however, claimed that if this were the case, it was down to “a lack of trust” in the actions of the decision making Cabinet, citing “difficult decisions” made in the past.
Speaking during Thursday’s Audit Committee meeting – its first since the March lockdown – he said, “The public vote for those they wish to represent them every four or five years, but the problem is that ordinary members simply have no powers.
“We’ve been in lockdown now for four months but I’ve have only been contacted by two officers since March, this is the first actual meeting we’re had for months.
“I fear there may be a feeling out there that their local members simply aren’t in a situation to represent them as they aren’t part of any decision making processes.
“The agenda today is full of items for considerations only, but we have to consider accountability or we’ll be in an even worse situation, and a loss of that vital contact means that the principle of local government goes down the drain.”
Cllr Dewi Roberts added: “I do agree there’s been a lack of input in the decision making process.
“Yes we receive emails that the leadership team has come to certain decisions but it would be nice to know what and why things are being discussed beforehand.
“Of course we’ve experienced unprecedented times and its difficult, but I do feel we could have had more of an input.”
But outlining the authority’s processes in response to the pandemic, head of finance Dafydd L Edwards said that the authority was in the process of ramping up its virtual meetings calendar after the resuming of cabinet and planning meetings over recent months.
“In regards to maintaining contact during the lockdown, I accept that there’s always room for improvement, but there’s certainly been an effort there,” he added.
“The sharing out of business grants was an additional task above and beyond, with Gwynedd allocating £55m to local business, which is more than any Welsh authority apart from Cardiff.
“So there’s so much work that’s taken place behind the scenes and while there have been efforts to keep members in the know, we’ve been treating this like a long term emergency which has meant the diverting of so many resources.”
Cllr Paul Rowlinson noted that the pausing of committees, including the Employment Appeals Committee had left some members of staff “in limbo,” adding that holding such meetings virtually would have been “beneficial.”
But Angela Russell, the leader of the independent group, said that while she agreed with Cllr Gruffydd, the “unprecedented” nature of the pandemic had to be taken into consideration.
“Scrutiny is important, of course, but the patient is still breathing at the moment and its too soon to carry out the post-mortem,” she said.
“In hindsight we’re all very clever, but at the time we were all very concerned.
“There will be a time down the line to look back and point fingers.”
Cllr John Pughe Roberts added, “To be frank, for the first few weeks of the pandemic I was busy enough with ward matters as it was.
“If there was any issue I was able to talk to officers and police and I can only praise both for their work.
“That said, I do think that now is the time for a full calendar to resume as things are starting to settle.”
Members approved the report unanimously.
By Gareth Williams – Local Democracy Reporter
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