Interesting debate a couple of weeks ago in a plenary session at the Senedd concerning local government transprency, essentially the filming of meetings, by the public, and publication of spending details. As my name cropped up several times in the transcript, I watched the whole thing on Senedd TV. Two AMs, Janet Finch-Saunders and Suzy Davies, presented very good, and very well argued cases for both, I was quite impressed;
"...Last year, we were all horrified by the images of Jacqui Thompson being handcuffed and marched to a police car. She was then detained at the police station for two hours. Her crime was to film a public meeting of Carmarthenshire council on her camera phone. A flat ban on the filming of public council meetings is hardly in the spirit of openness and transparency. Given the lack of consistent publication of council expenditure, filming council meetings may be the only way for some council tax payers to get timely information about how their local authority is spending their money....."
"...As there is, perhaps understandably, little appetite among councils to broadcast their meetings, and the Minister is not minded to place a statutory obligation upon them to do so, filming by citizen commentators seems to be the most sensible approach. We should not be dragging away the Jacqui Thompsons of this world in handcuffs; we should be supporting and encouraging them..."
As I have said, perhaps I am naive but I do not understand why any of this is a party political matter, I am aware that it forms part of Eric Pickle's transparency agenda but surely it should be cross party? Or is that impossible in politics these days? To be fair, I see that the Plaid manifesto for Carmarthenshire has "allowing filming and recording of council meetings" as a 'principle it will adhere to when implementing policy', they also promise to get rid of the Carmarthenshire News; I think they recognise the value of transparency. It goes without saying that these issues, including stamping out spin, also form part of Caebrwyn's election manifesto too and no, I'm not a 'closet' anything.
I am not sure where the Labour party stands on this, at the same plenary meeting there was a shocking statement from Jenny Rathbone AM, who obviously believes that the Welsh people are too thick to understand anything more complicated than tabloid headlines;
"..I am saying that, in order to be accountable, information has to be presented in a format that is understandable to people. You have to bear in mind that most people need it in the format that is presented by the The Sun or the Daily Mirror, because if you simply present it as closely written lines along the lines of what The Times newspaper used to look like, people will not read it and will not be any further along in understanding what their council is up to..."
What a patronising statement, it beggars belief that an Assembly Member can stand up in the Senedd and calmly insult the intelligence of the people of Wales.
The Minister, Carl Sargeant again stays on the fence, reluctant to be seen to 'micromanage' local authorities. As you may be aware there is another pressing issue which should be troubling the Minister, something which could cost the Carmarthenshire taxpayer dear, so perhaps he should be wondering just how far certain local authorities are prepared to go to stifle local government transparency...and come off that fence.