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....
Scrutiny, Democracy & Participation Team