Thursday 1 September 2011

More Carmarthenshire 'Democracy'

Following on from Friday's post about next Monday's Executive Board (5th Sept) meeting, a statement has come my way from County Cllr Sian Caiach (People First Group). As I said, there are two motions being submitted concerning elderly care and filming council meetings.
Anyway, over to Cllr Caiach;

"CCC's Executive Board are giving a decision on two motions submitted by the People First Group, (submitted correctly for consideration in the June and July full Council meetings) on the 5th of September. Both motions were judged unsuitable for debate in full council by the Chief Executive and the Chair, Ivor Jackson and referred to the Executive Board. We, (Cllr Arthur Davies and myself) have been told we are not allowed to present the motions to the Board or speak at all in this meeting. We are allowed to watch proceedings only, just as members of the public are.

If you open the link below you will see that a decision has already been made to reject my motion to stop closing day facilities for the disabled and sick elderly on the grounds that the council wishes to concentrate finances on those elderly with most need. It has therefore closed a facility for the sick disabled elderly (Noddfa Teilo Day Club based in Llandeilo) and taken the transport facility away from those disabled people living outside Llandeilo and replaced it with an ordinary luncheon club run by the WRVS, open to all elderly living in or near the town only.

I see this as abandoning the disabled rural elderly who are left with either no facilities or a less frequent charity run luncheon club without specialist care.
This is seen as an improvement in service by the Council Executive Report.
Forgive me for pointing out that the net effect here is to transfer facilities from the sick and disabled elderly to those less sick and disabled and downgrade the service in the process.

I believe a proper debate would not only have saved Noddfa Teilo and the other day clubs by bringing out the full impact on these disabled and sick elderly. Unfortunately, removing these facilities may lead to those who managed at home with day care support now having to go into residential care. I believe the motivation for closing day clubs and centres is to reduce the numbers of council care staff and to shift responsibility for elderly care to charities who may not be able to provide the same standards long term.

In the case of Cllr Arthur Davies' motion which I seconded there is as yet no decision statement on the council website. As there rarely is any debate in the public meeting of the Council's Executive I presume a statement is being prepared. I have had a letter from the Welsh Government approving in principle filming of all council meetings if the members approve and mentioning that CCC have promised the Welsh Government that they are to consider filming meetings and streaming them on to the internet.

Councils such as Cardiff start each meeting with a proposal allowing filming of their full meetings - they film them themselves. We should do the same and allow amateur filming until our own system is established. At present the time consuming process of forcing every member of the public to give their details and sign an undertaking not to film the meetings has led some to miss the items they came to watch as they have to queue make their declaration of good behaviour.

I understand that there has been a quiet consultation with my fellow councillors by the ruling group which has established that although some councillors would not like to be filmed they realise that to decline filming would look like they had something to hide. I believe this was the reason the matter was not debated as the argument would have been lost"

Previous post; Why Carmarthenshire Council Needs to be filmed, by Cllr S Caiach

I finally received a reply to my queries (sent August 10th) about the Council's undertaking. Mr Lyn Thomas has now retired so the response is from the acting Head of Administration and Law. There is nothing very new to report only the continued rather garbled explanations of the "not required to permit" practice. It's all getting increasingly contorted with, as I understand it, the council needing to benevolently bestow special 'additional rights' if we are to be allowed to film;
"...the effect of this [Local Goverment Act] is that the public cannot record or film meetings as of right. This authority has never introduced any additional provisions permitting filming or recording so in effect this means that in the absence of having given the public additional rights the Authority's "policy" [not my quotation marks] is to allow the public the rights specifically given to them by the Act.."
I have a feeling they will soon make 'additional provisions' to prohibit it.

And as for human rights
"..the fact that it has been deemed necessary to impose a condition upon that admission [to the public gallery] does not breach human rights"
As we do not have a 'right' to film we are not protected by the Convention.

Was a democratic decision taken to introduce the undertaking? The answer to that was clear - no.
"The decision to introduce the undertaking requirement was an operational decision made by officers"
Operational?? That's a new one.

Interestingly, half way through the letter, the incorrectly applied, and overtly legal term 'Undertaking' is replaced by the phrase 'Terms of Attendance'.
I am going to the Executive Board meeting on Monday and will be faced with the dilemma (it is a matter of principle for me of course) of signing the undertaking or not.
It doesn't look like I'll have much choice.
Any ideas?

I wonder whether, had my blog been titled 'In Praise of Wonderful Carmarthenshire County Council', there would have been any of this palaver? I doubt it.
Incidentally, I noticed the Council looked at my blog for over three hours today. Just saying.


Bob said...

The 'terms of attendance' are very clearly stated in the constitution - the public may attend subject ONLY to the exceptions listed, which do not include filming - the signed undertakings seem to be flagrantly unconstitutional, by introducing new exceptions on top of those specifically listed in the rules as being the ONLY exceptions permitted. The LGA gives a framework the council must adhere to in drafting its constitution, the constitution gives the rules the council actually commits to adhere to - and it is in breach of them. The council's solicitors have previously been heard to give specific misleading incorrect advice about the provisions regarding filming in the constitution, claiming such provisions existed - they don't.

As for your signing the undertaking - firstly, have you not already done so, under coercion from Dyfed Powys Police whilst in their custody? If they regard these things as in any way binding (they're not) then why would the one already previously signed not be just as valid? Secondly, did they not set a limit of not filming until the policy was reviewed? In which case, it's being reviewed in that meeting so the undertaking surely only actually lasts until that point.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha! I hadn't even realised until recently that you knew who visited your blog, let along for how long! Carms CC for 3 hours! How gratifying for you - and how very complimentary!

caebrwyn said...

I can only see who a few visitors are, and these are organisations, one of which is Carms CC who have been very regular visitors since I started writing the blog in 2009 - although there has been a surge of interest of late. They are welcome, of course, to leave comments.

caebrwyn said...

Quite. The public should only be excluded if there is a disruption or if there is an exempt report, there is no additional reason ie filming, which has nothing to do with either.

As for the undertaking signed at the police station under duress, clearly it was no more 'binding' than the one the council is now insisting upon.
However, it is a simple fact that if I don't sign on Monday (unless they've seen sense and abandoned the whole idea by now??)then I will be obstructed from attending the meeting. As a blogger, I wish to go to attend simply to hear and report on what is said (if anything) and decided, about the three items - rather than waiting for the unrepresentative minutes to appear. To film or record proceedings would, of course, give further accuracy to my account. But it is unlikely that CCC have undergone a flash of enlightened transparency.
It is also unlikely the 'policy' will be reviewed at the meeting; I suspect, as do the Cllrs who proposed the motion, it will be thrown out as 'considerations' are, apparently, underway.
We'll see.

Cneifiwr said...

It would be interesting to get some feedback from local people in the Llandeilo area to see whether the council's claims stand up. In Newcastle Emlyn, Age Concern has made several appeals for volunteer drivers to bring elderly people from the surrounding villages, and it is clear that transport is a problem under the new arrangements.

As usual, Carmarthenshire is being less than honest in making these claims about greater flexibility and improved access. The council's own report recommending closure of the clubs stated that the council had not been applying its eligibility criteria. So in what way are the WRVS, etc. more flexible?

They have been caught time and again making inflated claims and manipulating information in order to force through measures (e.g. the Llanelli care home closure). That amounts to lying in most people's books.

No surprise that they will not allow debate or discussion of the two motions. Democracy in action, Carmarthenshire style.