I have rather neglected local stories over the past couple of weeks but as the dust settles and I consider my options, and Carmarthenshire Council proudly displays it's latest award on the wall of the Presidential Suite, there are a few items to note;
The Llanegwad by-election was held last Thursday, an interesting win for Plaid Cymru over a usually safe Independent seat. Anyone who has a passing interest in Carmarthenshire politics will know that the Independents, as a group, are in tight coalition with Labour under the firm hand (or 'boot') of Leader Meryl Gravell. The Plaid opposition were naturally pleased to add another to their ranks in County Hall. What is becoming increasingly important is not so much the political colours of our Councillors but the need for a strong opposition and alternative to the ruling elite and with only 10 months to the next local elections I hope plenty of vociferous candidates, including true independents will stand, and we will have a brand new Executive Board, making decisions for the good of Carmarthenshire residents rather than, as it appears to many of those residents now, acting as lackeys for the Chief Executive.
For further comment please have a look at Y Cneifwr blog ,and while you're there, have a read of the other excellent posts too.
A word of thanks here to Plaid Councillor Dyfrig Thomas who spoke out to urge Carmarthenshire Council to webcast it's meetings, (and thanks also to the other County Councillors who have supported me over all this); Cllr Thomas said sound and film recording would improve transparency and create a "powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to account. After the fiasco at the meeting of the June 8, when Mrs Thompson was removed from the gallery, the public just cannot understand what was wrong in filming the proceedings. She was not interfering with the meeting in any way. A sound system is in place in the chamber and two fixed cameras would be sufficient to pan the whole chamber. It could be done with the minimum of cost and would require very little resources. There would be a true record of the proceedings, and lower grade managers could become aware of councillors' views."
Apparently the matter will be discussed at a meeting in the near future, I shall be popping along to see how that one goes.
Carmarthenshire Council, as we know, completely lacking a filming ban in their own constitution, have been asking all the other Local Authorities for their policies etc on this subject. The results are a mix with some requiring permission from the Chair to film, some regularly webcasting meetings, some are reviewing policy inlight of recent events, and some do nothing at all, yet, eg Carmarthenshire. Who, interestingly, have been scratching their heads over the past week or two, and not only come up with the 'we own the building' ploy but the 'we are not required to permit filming' wheeze from the Local Government Act 1972, I don't think though this amounts to a ban nor an excuse to lock people up who do film. Discussions between the political leaders and the Chief Executive last week seem to have concluded, wrongly, that there is a blanket ban, with one political leader feeling he'd been prematurely pressurized into action and that 'we need to be sure of our facts'. The facts are exactly as Cllr Thomas said, and I repeat "sound and film recording would improve transparency and create a powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to account." It's quite simple really, no argument. Another reason to film is of course the vague and uninformative Council Minutes - who could ever argue over what was said, by whom, to who, or about what, if we can all see it on film?
Which reminds me, I am still waiting for the Minutes of the June 8th full Council meeting to be published, they're taking a very long time....Carmarthenshire Council and the subject of filming meetings will be an issue I will follow closely.
Incidentally, I have also, this morning, asked the Chief Executive to make a public apology to myself on behalf of the Council. I await his reply.
The Council's Deposit Local Development Plan has now been published, only a year and a half behind schedule. You have until 4.30pm, August 19th to object or comment, I suggest everyone takes a close look at the proposed sites as it maps out future developments in the County, if you can bear to read the words 'strategy' or 'strategic' at least ten thousand times that is, if you can't, stick to the maps. As our wonderful Planning Department steers us through the next few years of Carmarthenshire 'strategic' growth let's also hope someone takes a close look at them too.
The Assembly Government has decided to publish it's spending details over £25,000. The First minister stated; "How we use taxpayers' money must be open and easily accessible to the public". Although any moves towards transparency are to be welcomed, I believe this figure is too high. Let's hope the next decision is to insist all Local Authorities publish their spending details over £500.
Following on from the ICO decision relating to the publication/release of senior officer's Register of Interests in Bolton, I notice a related Freedom of Information request to Cheshire Council, the response is due next month. I have a feeling, in the interests of transparency, I may be soon making a similar request to Carmarthenshire Council.
Lastly, I have challenged the parking Penalty Charge Notice referred to in my previous post, I have said;
'I am challenging this PCN as I was unable to get back to my car on that day until approximately 4.15pm by which time the three hour ticket had expired, this was through no fault of my own whatsoever;
I believe that as a result of the Police and Carmarthenshire County Council knowingly acting on false information, I was arrested by the Police at County Hall, Carmarthen that morning and held in custody at Llanelli Police Station for most of the day. As I was released without charge and this matter is now subject to ongoing investigations, I ask that any judgement be suspended until these are complete.'