Wednesday, 7 November 2012

My letter in the Western Mail - putting the record straight

Today's Western Mail has published my letter replying to the Leader of the council, Cllr Madge. This is the third piece of correspondence; my first letter can be linked to here and Cllr Madge's response is here (The Minister,Carl Sargeant replied to me here).
It's all self-explanatory really and all concerns, of course, the public gallery. Presumably, when the Executive Board, er, wholeheartedly embrace the cross-party motion to 'allow' the public to film, and the non-existent rule is even more non-existent, all restrictions will be cast aside......

Here's my letter;

Council openness 
SIR – I would like to reply to the letter from Carmarthenshire council’s Mr Kevin Madge (Oct 29) regarding the entry procedures to the public gallery. 
Firstly, I strongly dispute allegations that I have disrupted any meetings. Quietly filming a meeting is not in any way disruptive.
Mr Madge refers to “rules” governing meetings, these are standing orders. Maybe Mr Madge should familiarise himself with them, he would then realise in there is no mention whatsoever of filming or recording meetings, let alone any prohibition. 
To insist that visitors, including a child, be made to sign an undertaking agreeing to comply with a non-existent rule is at best unwelcoming and at worst unlawful. 
Visitors are also escorted to and from the gallery by two members of staff and locked in. There were no fire risk assessments carried out when these arrangements were implemented by senior officers last year. We are now told to wait in the gallery to be rescued in the event of a fire. 
I am also surprised that Mr Madge is unaware that the 15-year-old, Jeno Davies, was required to sign, especially as this is the second time this has happened, the first being in January when he was 14. 
On both occasions his mother made his age very clear to the staff at reception, they then contacted officers by phone to clarify that he did in fact have to sign, and the officers confirmed that he did. 
As for Mr Madge’s comment that “it was a school day”, I have since been made aware that Jeno is registered home educated and very interested in local politics. 
The council is not committed to transparency at all. The pilot broadcasts, if they go ahead will be selectively edited, pre-recorded videos, not live-streamed. By the time they’re cleansed and uploaded it will be about as informative as a two-week-old newspaper. 
Mr Madge refers to his “commitment” to transparency, this was how the filming proposals were worded in the Forward Work programme in July: “Whilst we are anxious not to waste local taxpayer’s money with frivolous or perceived populist ideas, we will shortly receive the findings of the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee review of E-Government which is recommending that the council trial the filming and webcasting of council meetings. Such a pilot would enable us to judge whether there is a genuine interest across the county with ordinary members of the public, rather than single campaigners.” 
Carmarthenshire council continues to fail to grasp the concept of openness and democracy and strives to silence its critics while committing a large part of its shrinking budget to one of the largest PR departments in Welsh local authorities. 
And may I suggest that it would have been far better to have issued a simple, sincere apology to Jeno Davies and his mum. My advice to Ms Davies would be to make a complaint to the Ombudsman. 
Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire

Here's a link to the Western Mail letters page, 7th November 2012, my letter is the second one down.

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