Monday, 2 April 2012

The Council, Twitter and Spin

I was almost heartened to see this promising tweet from the Council press office on Friday;

"@CarmsCCPress.....making real efforts to improve communication on social networks, feedback and questions welcome"

So, today, I asked a few reasonable questions via Twitter;

 - can you tell me where I can find the latest agenda and miutes for the #carmarthenshire Local Service Board please?

 - I seem to be unable to leave comments on the council facebook page - this does not 'improve communication', please rectify

 - how much revenue is raised towards the Carmarthenshire News through private sector advertising?

 - Your twitter account does not appear to follow any residents of #carmarthenshire other than journalists, why is this?

 - anyone there?

then I had a response;

@caebrwyn sorry we don't have staff resources to respond to all comments on FB, please contact

I am not sure if they knew whether they were on Facebook or Twitter or were referring to my FB comment. Anyway, I replied;

not all comments require response - but I am sure #carmarthenshire council values residents' opinions, please enable comments [actually, on closer inspection, it seems it could be just Caebrwyn who can't comment]

No response. But during this brief, half an hour long, one way conversation, reminiscent of the #pambot fiasco the press office managed to find the 'staff resources' to publish eight press releases on the council website - I mentioned it;

@CarmsCCPress you do have the staff resources to publish 8 press releases on your website today though?

...but again, no response. Perhaps I'll try again tomorrow. I have to conclude that there must have been a youngster there on work experience last Friday, monitoring the press office 'social networking' skills, who made the unforgivable error of 'engaging' with the rabble. It will be interesting to see if any 'new' councillors decide to tweet from the Chamber after May 3rd. (This debate still rumbles around the UK, interesting blogpost here from journalist @davidhiggerson)

The council seems to be pretty keen these days to emphasise that the council rag, the Carmarthenshire News is a by-product the Local Service Board (LSB). The LSB of course is another talking shop for senior managers and officials of the said same council this time with the police, health board etc execs thrown in  who meet, apparently, every two months. And, judging by the content of the Community News, each separate Department of Spin and Waste is tasked with contributing a 'good news' article, regardless to accuracy (and, I am sure, approved by County Hall) and coughing up a few quid for the privilege.

We don't know what they talk about as there are no agendas or minutes being published.

Set up a couple of years ago through Welsh Government funding to streamline the delivery of services through the collaboration of executive managers....blah blah blah... Not surprisingly, a quick glimpse at the LSB website suggests that churning out spin is as important to the LSB as it is to the council, and, judging by the entire content, style and tone, funding propaganda is number one priority. It features 'LSB TV', clearly the renamed 'Carmarthen TV', a project I thought was long forgotten, and the website itself is like a mini version of the council's, with even more broken links and no useful information whatsoever.

Older readers may remember the furore about the proposed 'Carmarthen TV' internet channel a couple of years ago (2009), (don't confuse it with any attempt to film meetings!) which naturally involved exempt reports etc which, as I pointed out at the time (including here ), hardly needed the executive rubber stamp and promise of cash, as it had all been decided several months previously at a LSB meeting. Questions were raised in the Senedd about whether this was appropriate use of funds, apparently it wasn't, but, as we know, Carmarthenshire council takes a dim view of such advice. I had a quick look at a couple of the barely functioning, and ageing videos, I didn't last long, the Leader, the Chief Executive and an Executive from Simons Group - the "key players" of the regeneration programme for Carmarthen were 'interviewed' by two school pupils (who, I add, were fine presenters).  As you can imagine it was painful viewing, peppered with adverts for Debenhams, Frankie and Benny's, New Look etc etc - I didn't make it to the end....The whole thing definitely had nothing to do with improving the lot of the ordinary resident; the stated (sort of) aims of the LSB.

The situation is getting worse, the council's priority for image and press control, whether it be through their own press office which is mysteriously incorporated into their own company SirgarPR; their ban on staff talking to the press without prior approval and a chaperone; or the more sinister invasion of our own local independent press by County Hall, has to be brought to an end.
'Non-Statutory services', we are told, such as public toilets, museums and post-16 school transport are eligible for the chop - So where does that leave the endless stream of patronising PR seeping from all corners of County Hall...."statutory" and top priority! according to the council....


towy71 said...

Great post Jacqui, I do hope you are successful on May 3rd

Cneifiwr said...

Well done, Caebrwyn. Yet another stone lifted in the local government rockery, and look how many familiar characters emerge - the Simmons Group and even, horrifyingly, the undead Carmarthen TV.

As you say, this is a public body - so where are the records, where is the accountability, what are they doing with our money?

Tessa said...

HELL you are good Jacqui! Fingers and everything crossed that you are successful in the election!

Cneifiwr said...

Just had a quick rummage through the LSB website, which presumably must have cost money to set up. It is without exception the worst website I have ever seen - almost nothing works. Click on "About us": Error 404, click on "Better Place", "Feeling Fine", Feeling Secure", "Investment and Innovation", and guess what? Error 404.

A total and completely irresponsible waste of resources.

Cneifiwr said...

Although they were too busy to respond to anyone on Facebook, etc. the council does spend a lot of time monitoring all sorts of blogs, websites and social media. Here they are sternly addressing naturists who have been using Pembrey beach....

"websites and social media opportunities have been promoting the beach to naturists.
More than 40 nudists have been seen at one time - men and women - getting an all over tan in the recent scorching weather on the beach. Many have been frolicking and cooling off in wreck pools in view of and upsetting families walking and cycling on the hard sands".

Be warned, nudies, the council will take appropriate action if you are caught.

caebrwyn said...

@Tessa @towy71 Thanks, fingers crossed too.

@Cneifiwr indeed, one wonders exactly what they ARE looking at on their computers......