A call to remove the role of Pembrokeshire’s presiding member has been labelled “an entirely opportunistic political move,” which could see a return to the days of “bloody hopeless” ‘patsies’ being in charge of council meetings.
Pembrokeshire County Council meetings have been chaired by a presiding member since 2020, first Cllr Pat Davies and latterly Cllr Simon Hancock.
The position replaces a role previously occupied by chair of the council, the role of council chairman now taking on more of a civic function.
At the October meeting of full council members were asked to consider options for a financial allowance for the presiding member, following a recommendation from the council’s Constitutional Review Working Group.
Cllr Hancock left the chamber while the item was discussed.
A sticking point emerged, the last of five points, giving the option to remove the role, the council chairman taking the position back; which sparked much debate on its legitimacy.
An amendment, to the recommendation to support remuneration of the role, was put forward by Councillor Jamie Adams – leader of the previous council administration – to delete the role of presiding member from the next election, reverting to the chairman of the council chairing the meetings.
“When I speak to members of my community, they are quite astonished that the chairman does not chair the council meetings,” said Cllr Adams, adding: “I don’t wish my words to be in any way derogatory to members that have undertaken the role of presiding member, but I think it should be the role of the chairman, and therefore move option five.”
Council Leader David Simpson described Cllr Hancock as doing “an excellent job,” adding he had run his Cabinet with one less member than he was allowed, offering the money from that post to cover the presiding role costs.
Cllr Reg Owens described Cllr Simpson’s offer as “very noble,” but said “this isn’t the time to be spending more money”.
He praised Cllr Hancock and Cllr Davies in their roles but said the quality of previous chairs “has proved they can do it”.
Cllr Pat Davies said the presiding role differed from that of chair, which some potential chairs may not be comfortable occupying.
However, Deputy Leader Cllr Paul Miller said the proposal by Cllr Adams was “politically opportunistic”.
“Cllr Owens talked about the high quality of chairmen in the past, let me be clear, my recollection is almost diametrically opposed to that,” said Cllr Miller.
“When I first became elected, chairmen were ‘patsies’ elected by the independent political group, some were fine – I wouldn’t want to tar everyone with the same brush – but some of those from Cllr Adams’ group were absolutely bloody hopeless, and it seriously negatively impacted on conducting business of the council and the council’s reputation.
“The job of chairman and the job of presiding member are completely different, as Cllr Davies has said, and I wouldn’t want anyone to be duped by Cllr Adams’ rationale; this is an entirely opportunistic political move designed to oust Cllr Hancock, who, in my opinion, has done an exceptional job in a role that’s more difficult than most people recognise.”
He said, if Cllr Adams’ proposal failed, he would move remuneration be adopted using the money from the unused Cabinet position, as Cllr Simpson had offered.
Cllr Alan Dennison condemned Cllr Miller’s comments, saying the discussion was about the presiding member, “not making political points”.
Councillor Aled Thomas also condemned the “personal comments” made about previous council members, saying he would be supporting Cllr Adams’ amendment to be “fiscally responsible”.
The matter had previously been discussed at the September meeting of the council’s Constitutional Review Working Group.
However, there was some debate about whether the fifth option had been included from that meeting, Cllr Jacob Williams saying he didn’t recall it from attending the group, describing the addition as “scandalous”.
Cllr Thomas said ‘all options on the table’ had specifically been included, a view shared by Cllr Dennison.
Cllr Adams said he apologised “for inadvertently descending the council into a chaotic scene,” suggesting votes be taken on all points, before the contentious fifth.
After the lengthy discussion, Cllr Miller formally moved a closure motion, meaning the item would return to a future meeting, which was supported by 32 votes to 24.
Further discussions are now expected to be heard at the next full council meeting.