Thursday 10 November 2011

Carl Sargeant to 'encourage' councils to allow filming

I was reminded today by the Assembly Petitions Office that my petitions are back in front of the Committee next Tuesday (15th). Here's the Agenda, and of course the meeting can be watched - live - on Senedd TV. Carl Sargeant, Welsh Minister for Local Government, has written to the Committee with his views on filming and publishing spending details. He wrote to me a few weeks ago when I queried the entry procedures for the Public Gallery, that letter can be seen here, I have, of course, made my views on that matter abundantly clear.
But back to the issue of filming, Mr Sargeant now states that he will 'encourage' local authorities to allow the public to film as long as; a) Members are aware, and b) it doesn't inconvenience other members of the public attending. Although I reserve judgement until the petitions committee discuss all the matters involved, including the publication of spending details, I am quietly hopeful that this is a small step in the right direction, almost adopting Eric Pickles guidance issued to English councils back in February, I wonder whether he has been talking to Monmouthshire Council, he definitely hasn't been talking to Carmarthenshire Council! Here is Mr Sargeant's letter, (click to enlarge, or there's a link to PDF version here);

If the committee endorse his recommendations, or maybe go even further, it will be interesting to see how Carmarthenshire Council deal with such 'encouragement' next time I turn up with my camera, I shall ensure I announce my intention to everyone first of course, not that I hid the fact before. Or perhaps they could adapt their current posters in County Hall which alert you to the fact you are being filmed on CCTV!
On the subject of Monmouthshire Council, they (as of course Aberystwyth Town Council did a couple of weeks ago) allowed the BBC in today to film one of their meetings for a documentary - they sent me this rather nice picture;

source @HelReynolds
Whilst on the subject of transparency my FoI request to Carmarthenshire Council for copies of the Register of Members interests, gift and hospitality was refused today. As I suspected, I am expected to make an appointment and travel to Carmarthen to view the information, probably under armed guard. This is unlike several other Welsh councils who easily publish this information on their websites for all to see. Anyway, I have now contacted 'Democratic Services' to ask whether they can photocopy it all for me to collect from County Hall - they may make a charge, I am not sure - what I am sure about is that Carmarthenshire Council don't believe in making things easy! If I manage to acquire the information I shall do the Council's job for them (and help them achieve their 'Core Value' of transparency), and publish it on this blog.

A bit of an update now on a couple of recent items of interest. I notice that the £20,000 grant to the Scarlets is back on the Agenda for next Monday's Executive Board meeting. I have recently mentioned this here; I also notice that it looks like the decision will not go to full council; the report states; "Executive Decision required - yes, Council Decision Required - N/A". As I have said, this council has a bit of a preoccupation with rugby but I hope they take into account the latest figures on the whole Parc Y Scarlets finances, and maybe look back and consider the considerable cost to the taxpayer so far (please search for previous posts).

I see the Executive Board also approved one of the exempt items mentioned here , again it doesn't appear to be going to full council. The Towy Community Church have secured a 15 year loan from the Council for £270,000 to 'fill the funding gap' in their (I'm sure well meant) attempt to build an evangelical bowling alley and 'community' facility. They're doing well, and as I have said, it was only in May that the Council gave a capital grant of £280,000 to 'fill the funding gap'. I've got a bit of a 'funding gap' - shall I ask the Council to fill it? The Chief Executive said "If we didn't approve this we could lose £1.2 million that they have already accessed in funds from elsewhere" I am not sure what he means by "we could lose..."? The royal 'we' perhaps? Meryl Gravell referred to the project as the "biggest social enterprise in Carmarthenshire. That's what we need more of in the future" This could be the answer to our Leader's Social Care funding worries, the entire department could be taken over as an evangelical enterprise. Praise the Lord. I shall have to have a read of the 'living word', perhaps I've been missing something. And I presume this generosity with taxpayers money will extend to all religious groups in their efforts to serve the community?

For more on the matter of the Council's relationship with the Towy Community Church see Y Cneifiwr's latest post; Towy Church gets another £275,000 from Carmarthenshire

11th November; Today's South Wales Evening Post reports that Carmarthenshire Council has spend £100,000 on private detectives between 2008 and 2011;


Photon said...

That's not a bad initial response, Jacqui, so well done on it all so far.

It's a great shame that the line 'security in the modern society' is trotted-out once more. Sargeant should actually say that Councils are obliged to adopt measures for security that are commesnurate and proportionate to the threat.

I've not heard recently of much violent protest at council meetings anywhere, although there certainly have been in the past, 'non-modern' society when security was nowhere near as draconian as that in sway at Carms.

The other crucial bit is that measures must be lawful. It is certainly arguable that recording public attendee's names is contrary to the spirit of open democracy and will always tend to inhibit people from attending.

I wonder if anyone has asked how the personal data that is gathered is actually processed, and for what purpose? If you can see the name and maybe address of the other people, is that a breach of their rights under DPA 1998? Worth thinking about...

Public-i said...

Jacqui, fascinating blog and enjoying your tweets. My life is spent trying to get local authorities to open up and engage with ALL of their residents ie their online community too !

Many Councils still haven't realised that if they are to remain relevant with an ever increasing percentage of the population they are going to have to not just recognise but embrace the internet and Social Media. They seem to think they can ignore / resist / dismiss comments and protagonists or at least control them but it becomes more and more apparent each day that by doing so they resemble more and more turkeys and Christmas is coming.....

Impressed (always have been) with officers like Paul Matthews, CEX at Monmouthshire who aren't put off by the seemingly impossible - Paul has a vision and determination to bring about behavioural change and if his members don't see it or won't see it then he's prepared to lead the way himself @pmtmomam

Thanks for the insight and keep going - there are like minded people out there listening and they are finding their voices.


Alice in Blunderland said...

Well done J it sounds positive and Carl Sargeant seems to agree in principle. The problem is those who refuse to budge and need firm handling as its the only way they know.Which is why I get cross with the pussyfooting around.We shall see if maybe Mr Sargant can coax Carmarthenshire.

Yes also very impressed with Monmouthshires CEO. So critics can be won round. All it takes are good PR skills and an attitude of wanting to try and improve things.Openness goes a long way to building trust and public engagement will follow Being businesslike and not hostile etc means attracting 'customers' and people being happier.
Our CEOs and Councils have kept us in the Dark Ages.We need more people with vision in Wales.

People here have given up as I now have on our Council.I am not bothered or interested anymore if they ever broadcast or let people film them.
Its taken me years to realise its a lost cause.