Thursday, 1 November 2012

Public Gallery nonsense - the Minister responds...

Had a response this afternoon to my open letter to Welsh Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab). My letter, about the continuing nonsense concerning Carmarthenshire Council's public gallery, was published in the Western Mail earlier in October along with a comment (more or less the same as below) supplied by a Welsh Government spokesperson.

In between my 'open letter' and the Minister's response below was the misleading, inaccurate and ridiculous letter from Leader, Kevin Madge, published in the Western Mail on Monday.  For the record I do not think Cllr Madge (Lab) wrote the letter. However, I have sent a reply to the Western Mail putting the record straight and I wait to see if it's published.

Cllr Madge, in what must rapidly be turning into a less than memorable first few months as Leader, is also now under investigation by the Ombudsman over the Sainsbury's press release and the questionable use of council resources.

In a nutshell, my letter to Mr Sargeant included the council's insistence that a 15 yr old had to sign the filming undertaking before being allowed to observe a meeting;
My letter ended with "I cannot believe you are not appalled by this latest development involving a youngster and I trust you will agree with me, act within your remit, and bring this unlawful behaviour by Carmarthenshire Council to an end"

Quite clearly, Mr Sargeant is not appalled at all by the actions of Carmarthenshire Council, and, as we have discovered over the past couple of years, he never is. As far as he and the Welsh Government are concerned, they have carte blanche to do as they please. In my opinion, as Minister for Local Government, Mr Sargeant is failing in so many ways.

Here's his response (well, from the Scrutiny, Democracy and Participation Team anyway) with my comments in red;

Dear Mrs Thompson 
Carmarthenshire Council access to public gallery. 
Thank you for your e-mail of 15th October to Carl Sargeant AM, Minister for Local Government and Communities. I have been asked to reply. 
The process that a local authority follows to allow public access to meetings is a matter for them, as they have to take into account the need for security in today’s society. 
I beg your pardon? The 'need for security in today's society'?? We're talking about a youngster who has an interest in local government. We're talking about a few hardy souls who track to County Hall, brave the guarded escort and the perils of being locked in the gallery, armed with nothing more dangerous that a pen, paper and a mobile phone. Just what does this Labour government consider to be a security threat? Will we soon be searched for weapons of mass destruction?
The Minister has placed on record his for support local authorities trying to engage with the public and a number of provisions within the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 are designed to encourage this. However it is a matter for the local authority to decide what methods and resources should be employed to make their meetings more accessible. 
The Minister is due shortly to conduct a consultation on a new code of practice with regard to local government publicity. The revised code is likely to contain specific guidance concerning the production of council newspapers and the broadcasting of council proceedings. 
Oh, a consultation, that's decisive Mr Sargeant. 'Local Government publicity'? - are you going to suggest they spend a bit more on PR? Maybe publish extra editions of the Carmarthenshire Pravda? Two weeks in a Llanelli gulag for filming a meeting? You never know though, perhaps Eric Pickles and his transparency agenda has got to him. We'll have to wait and see, and wait, and wait....
Yours sincerely 
Scrutiny, Democracy & Participation Team


towy71 said...

So the guarantee of entry to public meetings enshrined in the Access to Public Meetings Act 1960 as amended under the 1972 Local Government Act mean nothing to Mr Sargeant in just the same way as it means to CCC

Siren said...

Massive fail by the "Scrutiny, Democracy & Participation Team". Perhaps, like some of our American cousins, the team don't do irony.

Anonymous said...

what a pathetic reply by Carl Sargeant.

nospin said...

So how come he could intervene and suspend Anglesey council and threaten to other merge councils?

What are his personal criteria for intervening??

It just goes to show the shower in the bay is a complete and utter waste of our money.

It's jobs for the boys, Get rid of it now.

APTSec said...

Why not take a look at this council's participation processes:

Or indeed, google the phrase, 'the public are welcome to attend'. It seems that many local authorities encourage and support participation. If it were me I would consider a short reply to the Minister along the lines of please find attached the evidence that Carmarthenshire is out of step with other local authorities. This of course raises question that is Wales which is now out of step with England and Scotland in terms of the participatory process here? I am not sure I have only had a quick look. I have just rung the WLGA and hopefully someone will ring me back re whether or not there is some kind of 'concordat' between the Assembly and Local Authorities in Wales and whether there is or could be a 'ggod practice paper' re the encouragement and support of the public in engaging within the democratic process. I'll let you know. PS we still have lots of planning issues in Scotland even though there are lots of avenues to engage - because you then get into the nitty gritty of how influential the participation process is.

APTSec said...


WLGA did get back to me and will send an email with various details. However what was mentioned in the the telephone conversation was that some Welsh council constitutions contain a section on citizen rights and responsibilities. I checked on line and Carmarthenshire Council does have a section at

Page 4 /5 section 7.1

'Citizens have a number of rights in their dealings with the Council.
These are set out in more detail in Article 3. Some of these are legal
rights, whilst others depend on the Council’s own processes. Where
members of the public use specific council services, for example as
a parent of a school pupil or as a council tenant, they have additional
rights. These are not covered in this Constitution.
Citizens have the right to:

(Amongst others)

...attend meetings of the Executive Board, the Council and its
committees as observers (except during discussion of
personal or confidential matters);

Of course how this right is being facilitated it obviously a matter of concern.

caebrwyn said...

Many thanks for your comment and research. I would think most councils have similar clauses about citizens rights with regard to access to meetings etc, it is the putting into practice part that Carmarthenshire finds so difficult, as I have said so often on this blog.
It was senior officers, not a democratic decision by councillors, who introduced the 'operational decisions' relating to the undertakings, locked doors, names and addresses of visitors, etc. According to the Assistant Chief Executive last year, it is the Chief Executive who has the final control over who goes in and out of the public gallery.
As you say, there's more to it than legislation, there is the matter of good practice and the encouragement of public participation, the part of their constitution you quote also includes the citizens right to "participate in the Council’s question time" - all very well except there is no 'question time'....
We have planning issues in Wales too and the situation is the same, once you start to 'engage' you soon realise that the Welsh avenues are actually very short cul-de-sacs.

Anonymous said...

Independence for Wales??? I don't think so.... I rest my case..