Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Carmarthenshire Council misses the point

Finally, at long last, Carmarthenshire Council have completed their report on the mysteries of 'e-government', which includes the recording of council meetings. It's due to have an airing at next Monday's Policy and Resources Scrutiny meeting.

There is no mention, at this stage, about members of the public filming and recording meetings so the fact that there is no policy, nor any rule against this, remains, and, in theory, you are free to record. The council and I seem to differ on this point so it would be at your own mortal peril, of course.....

Anyway, the report deals with several 'e' issues but I'll start with the filming.
A pilot project has been recommended to make audio and film recordings of full council meetings only. I gather from the report that webcasting has been excluded as an option so any recordings will not be live, they will be edited, cleansed of anything the 'editor' may not want you to see or hear, then uploaded onto the council website. The council will therefore retain full control of the output and have conveniently missed the entire point of the exercise.

The report also misses and fails to consider the central point that the recording of all meetings, by whatever method, provides a true record of what was actually said.

This is disappointing and predictable. There is no mention either of the free use of the recordings once they are edited and uploaded nor why the pilot should not include other meetings, especially the Executive Board and the planning committee.

And don't forget, the council films you, via CCTV, from the minute you enter County Hall.

Part of the report states that (my italics);

"the main potential advantages of webcasting are said to be that it makes meetings more accessible to the public, has the potential to reach a wider audience and increases transparency in the decision-making processes of a council."

The advantages of live webcasting are not potential, nor said to be, they are fact. Neither does there appear to be any mention that recording, by whatever method, would provide an unarguable record of exactly what was said.

The other main issue is cost. We all understand the tight budgets councils are under but Carmarthenshire Council does have a slightly different set of priorities, number one being reputation management and spin which includes, amongst other expenses, the £138,000 a year propaganda rag, not to mention £1.4m on an evangelical bowling alley. If we also consider the fat cat wages of the senior management team at over £1m, £20,000 to webcast meetings, even with costs of translation, cabling etc, is a drop in the ocean.

Other recommendations in the report include urgent improvement of the planning section of the council website, it is a complete nightmare and prevents all but the most intrepid from viewing and commenting on planning applications in their area.
General recommendations to improve communications via the website are to be welcomed, as is continued lobbying to improve broadband in Carmarthenshire. But the use of the site to publish spending details, registers of interests and gifts etc are not considered. Neither is the questionable use of the news section to score political points, promote the planning applications of major international retailers or malign opponents to council led projects.
The Council provided me some time ago with their 'internet usage policy' but this report mentions a more specific Social Media Strategy and recommends to;
"Continue to monitor the use of social media throughout the Council to ensure compliance with the Social Media Policy" I shall have to see if I can find a copy. I wonder if it encourages the use of twitter during meetings? Unlikely.

The full report and further details can be found here, and the section relevant to recording meetings is at 5.6. There is a list of relevant links at the bottom of the report, including various newspaper reports.

The recommendations will now go before the Executive Board and then full council - with, I expect, a few added dampeners from the legal department.

I would be interested in your comments.

Update 10th october
An excellent blogpost on the subject from Madaxeman, here; Daft response to #daftarrest 


Cneifiwr said...

Very disappointing, and it looks like the control freaks, under the cover of legal opinion, have won the day again.

If the edited recordings are what we get, it could be days or weeks before the recordings are uploaded - just like the minutes. Anfd just like the minutes, editing means it will be impossible to know what has been chopped out.

Anonymous said...

Attendng Conucil meetings has always been a big hurdle for many people. Watching them live online is far less of an issue for most.

Being able to watch them back later, whether to simply catch up, to check facts, or see how one's councillors perform, and generally stay in touch with local government is a very valuable thing, and one that the council obviously fails to recognise.

I wonder how much they'll have to pay to create a post of council meeting film editor and censor.

Anonymous said...



caebrwyn said...

I agree with your comments, I doubt if they'll have to employ a censor, I think there's a few likely candidates already there.

and an excellent post from @madaxeman, I've linked to it.