Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Filming and spending petitions back at the Senedd....

As this morning's discussion between the Minister (Carl Sargeant, Lab.) and the Petitions Committee concerning my petitions can be viewed in full on the archived webcast linked below, I will not go into great detail.

To summarise, the Minister re-iterated earlier comments that although he welcomes transparency, both the spending details publication and the filming of meetings were something he would leave to local authorities to consider. He would not issue statutory guidance. As for publishing spending details, the 'jury was still out' whether this was cost effective in terms of reduced FoI requests as well as the task of preparing documents for publication. He acknowledged that Monmouthshire and Newport Councils had started to publish details. He also acknowledged that he had contact with Eric Pickles' office (Con.) over these issues of transparency but reminded the Committee that each government had 'different policy agendas' to be 'respected'.

As for webcasting, again the Minister said it was up to local authorites but both he and the Committee welcomed yesterday's announcement by Pembrokeshire Council that it would stream meetings. He also said that as long as the meetings themselves were compliant with general policies (I am assuming he meant language, equalities etc) then webcasting would not compromise it. The practice of 'remote attendence' at council meetings for Members was currently under consideration by the Welsh Government, and the technology to enable this may also enable webcasting at the same time.

With regards to members of the public filming meetings he again said he would encourage it, but was not clear as to how this 'encouragement' could be put into practice, he was further pressed, given recent controversies, whether he would consider issuing some sort of guidance to local authorities over the issue. He seemed to feel that this was something for to the WLGA to take up but as far as he was concerned his message to local authorities was that they should embrace new technology, including third party filming and as long as recordings were not covert and unreasonable there shouldn't be a problem.This is how I understood it anyway.

After half an hour the committee ran out of time so will be further deliberating the petitions at the meeting scheduled for the 13th March.

Here's the link to Senedd TV;
http://www.senedd.tv/archiveplayer.jsf?v=en_200000_07_02_2012&t=0&l=en - when Senedd TV opens, click on Item 4 (Minister for Local Government Oral Evidence session). If this doesn't work scroll along the bar until the time shows '1hr 01min 35s' - the discussion on my two petitions lasts around half an hour.

Somewhere in all this is the question whether we, as members of the public have the right to film and record public council meetings. I believe that in the public interest we most definitely have, as long as it is not disrupting or impeding the proceedings, which by it's very peaceful nature, it doesn't. I suppose that is not a question for the Welsh Assembly nor local authorities but a matter of transparency for the taxpayer and citizen rights, and sometimes, that is up to us.

Whatever the eventual outcome, I would like to thank the petitions committee and other participants and respondents, for the time and consideration that they have given to my petitions and I look forward to the 13th March.

Here in Carmarthenshire, the 'task and finish' group considering e-government is due to report back to the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on the 2nd April, I am assuming, as it was part of their remit, this will include the filming of council meetings, I'm sure they have had plenty of time anyway. The Council is still running a Poll on their website asking whether or not you would watch a meeting if it was streamed on the internet - once again, please vote yes!

1 comment:

Cneifiwr said...

There's nothing like a firm and decisive minister, and Carl Sargeant is nothing like one.