Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Undertakings and Filming FoI Response...

Interesting wording on Carmarthenshire Council's latest 'undertaking', the one which everyone is now required to sign before being locked in to the Public Gallery.. "I hereby undertake not to record or film any meetings of the council or it's committees from the public gallery of the Council Chamber at County Hall, Carmarthen until and unless the policy relating to this is reviewed by the Council" (my underlining) So what Policy is that then? There isn't one so how can anyone promise not to breach policy when there is no policy to breach? What right did they have to force people to sign? More to the point, was it legal? 

In relation to this and reinforcing the fact that there is no policy, a partial response to the long awaited Freedom of Information request appeared yesterday. I suppose this is why it has taken so long, it has clearly been lingering for some time in someone's in-tray, making it over a week late. I should imagine that with such a spotlight shone on this council over the past few weeks, email, meetings, notes etc would have been extensive and there is surely far more. I believe that the 'legal exemption' clause has been used to hide a multitude of sins and I wonder what 'matter' is 'still under consideraton'
I see they have included a rough estimate of costs for webcasting at £20,000. This seems overly high and I suspect this figure is to deter public interest and support. Mr Jonathan Edwards MP told me that he had heard the costs would be minimal with a sound system already in place - just never used.
I will film their meetings for free of course.

I even thought, naively, that maybe to save face and to dispel the overwhelming belief that they have things to hide, the attitude of the Council may have been different last Wednesday - perhaps they would have just opened the whole meeting up - invited the public to come along and watch/record/film/observe - as long as there was no 'disruption'. They would surely have gained brownie points and could have analysed the 'results' for future reference. But no, they went to the other extreme and turned the place into Fort Knox. What were they worried about?

Even Mr Pickles MP has glanced over the Severn Bridge to pass comment on the #daftarrest of 8th June, whilst addressing a conference of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy on the 7th July he referred to issues of Council transparency and said; "That is why, looking over the Welsh border, I think Carmarthenshire Council were out of line in having a local blogger arrested for the offence of videoing a public Council meeting. It was immensely short-sighted too" Go Eric.

The Council has come under considerable criticism over the way it has handled both the incidents on the 8th June and the strange lockdown on the 13th July

[remainder removed]


Photon said...

Week late? Broke the law then, didn't they?

We'll see what comes up re: Health and Safety FoIA request very soon...

Richard said...

I have also asked what, if any, the timescales are for the "unless and until" review. No response.

I have asked them to do away with the intrusive and demeaning new procedures for people wishing to go the public gallery, not least because they are deterring people from exercising their democratic rights. No response.

I have also pointed out to them that the abolition of recorded voting in committees removes our democratic right to know how councillors vote on specific issues. It may, after all, affect the way we cast OUR votes in elections. No response.

Anonymous said...

I can say that there have been a few councils who failed to respond within 20 working days to FOI requests I've sent.

Most who have replied only refere to standing orders, which asume that filming is disruptive behaviour. Most allow filming at the discretion of the chairperson/mayor, but cannot provide any criteria used to assess whether someone get permission to film or not. I can only assume that the default answer would be "No".

Photon said...

The reason many councils don't worry too much about the 20 day limit is that, unless they develop a lengthy track record of not responding through people complaining to the ICO, they will only get a polite letter to tell them off.

So, it's important to refer non-compliance to the ICO immediately. 20 days, after all, is a maximum, not a target.

Carmarthernshire applied my initials to their FoIA reference number, which could have been personal data. I protested, because it isn't necessary to use people's initials in order to ascribe a reference number. They claim to have removed the initials now.

It's up to us to hold them to the law, especially if they demonstrate a contemptuous attitude.