Thursday 27 June 2013

News round-up

Next week's Executive Board meeting will back safely on home turf. Residents of Newcastle Emlyn were recently honoured with one of Kev's 'On the Road' Executive Board trips to the outback. Unfortunately three out of the ten members couldn't make it quite that far but the remaining convoy was suitably escorted by seven senior officers, including a press officer. Corporate press releases and photo opportunities duly satisfied, the entourage hurried back to Carmarthen without, I suspect, a backwards glance.

Monday's meeting will approve up to five days free parking during the year to help promote specific events in Carmarthenshire towns. December will be excluded of course as this is the most lucrative period for the council. Seems reasonable enough but naturally there are strings attached and with County Hall ever on the lookout for PR opportunities, event organisers will be required to pay for an ad in the council rag and ensure that 'The Council’s support is acknowledged in all marketing literature, adverts and publicity for events'. It's like selling your soul...


With four local authorities and two health boards (led by Carmarthenshire Council) establishing a 'Regional Board' to 'streamline' health services and produce 'efficiency through collaboration' blah blah , it is heartening to see they've got their priorities in order. The first task? Support to young carers? A couple more nurses? Even a consultant for Llanelli's A & E Department? No, a 'collaboration manager' a mere snip at £81,000 per year.


The resignation of Education Minister Leighton Andrews (Lab) (yes I know, it's old news) was the inevitable outcome after joining campaigners against a school closure in his constituency, in other words, his voters. His ministerial policy to eradicate spare places has meant the wholesale closure of many schools and his recent actions must have left campaigners across Wales feeling bemused to say the least.

As Minister, he has often had the last word in any closure decision and it's always been a rejection. I wonder, if they'd asked him, whether he'd have joined the ranks of children and parents of Pantycelyn Secondary School as they delivered their 2579 name petition to Carmarthen County Hall? Of course not.


An interesting response to an FOI was released the other day, the requestor asked how many Carmarthenshire council services had been lost over the past seven years. The answer was 'none'. Presumably the council didn't have time to list the closure of luncheon clubs, elderly day clubs, libraries, pest control services, public toilets, and severe cuts to contributions to local charities (apart from the bowling alley of course) and the CAB, funding to parks and highways, etc. When 'cuts' to services are misrepresented as 'efficiency savings', rationalisation, or other such council jargon, a council can come up with an answer like 'none' and not even feel a tiny bit economical with the truth.


As the Welsh Government continues to reject Eric Pickles' advances, here's a good post from blogger Richard Taylor detailing his most recent struggle to film a meeting of an English district council.
Have a read (complete with You Tube clip) here; Battle to film at Huntingdonshire District Council

Have just noticed a BBC report here

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Welsh Government backing 'Town Hall tyranny', says Westminster

Further to Eric Pickles' published letter, (see 'Welsh freedom of speech 'suppressed' says Eric Pickles' ) to the Welsh Minister, Lesley Griffiths, the row appears to be escalating.

As reported by ITV Wales, Ms Griffiths has replied to Mr Pickles;

Minister accuses Pickles of 'astounding ignorance' 
The Local Government Secretary has been accused of 'astounding ignorance' by his Welsh counterpart. Lesley Griffiths has written to Eric Pickles after he criticised the Welsh Government for not following his lead in taking action to protect the right to report, film and tweet local council meetings. 
In the letter Ms Griffiths says it was 'entirely inappropriate' for Mr Pickles to intervene on a devolved matter; that it was 'discourteous' to make the letter public and that it was an 'extremely surprising and totally unacceptable interference by the UK Government in the Welsh political sphere.'

Oh dear.

Westminster, in the form of Tory party Vice Chairman, Bob Neill, fired back (my emphasis);

Tories accuse Welsh Government of backing 'town hall tyranny' 
The Conservatives have renewed their attack on the Welsh Government for not following Westminster's example and defining the public's right to report, film and tweet what happens in local council meetings. 
This time the criticism has come from a Tory party official after complaints from Cardiff Bay that an earlier letter from the Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, was 'entirely inappropriate' and showed 'astounding ignorance'. 
The Labour Administration in Wales is openly opposing the right for journalists and bloggers to tweet, film and report meetings. It is obscene that Welsh bloggers are being handcuffed and arrested in Wales for reporting meetings because they don't have the legal rights that English bloggers now have. No amount of bluster can disguise the fact that the Labour Party are the enemies of openness and on the side of town hall tyranny."
The letter, which was also copied to the Secretary of State for Wales, has been seen by ITV Wales and marks an escalation of an already bitter row between the two departments and comes on the day the Welsh Government described relations with Whitehall as 'sometimes frustrating.'

As if to prove Mr Neill right, the distinctly underwhelming Local Democracy Bill (Wales) passed through its final stage at the Assembly yesterday. There was much talk of openness, transparency and fairness but precious little in the way of practical steps. A requirement for councils to publish spending details would have been welcome, for example.

Of interest was a new requirement for Councils to publish the Register of Members' Interests online. Many already do this but not Carmarthenshire, and this will now bring an end to uncomfortable, and closely supervised visits to the vaults to see the ledgers.

The Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales will now make recommendations over the level of council Chief Executives' pay, rather than being set by councillors, the measure falls short as it does not apply to other senior officers at director level.

The amendment to remove the extra payment to Chief Executives who act as returning officers, (in Carmarthenshire this was an extra £20,000 last year), effectively a double payment, was lost but the Minister said that this would be looked into. We wait and see.

As for reporting from, or recording council meetings, the following amendment was, shamefully, lost;

'While a meeting (including committee meetings) of a principal council or community council is open to the public, any person attending the meeting for the purpose of reporting the proceedings is, so far as practicable, to be afforded reasonable facilities for taking their report.'

It would have provided at least a basis for members of the public to record meetings and would have ensured free use of social media during meetings. The #daftarrest of the Carmarthenshire blogger (me) was mentioned as an example of why legislation is needed. Too right it's needed.

This amendment already forms part of the Local Authorities (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012, but unfortunately that only applies to England.

The Bill will eventually become law and, despite a handful welcome measures, its a lost opportunity. If the Welsh Government doesn't legislating for greater all-round openness, (yes, in a reasonable and cost effective manner), Wales will never crawl out of the dark ages and our public authorities will never be properly and publicly scrutinised. It'll be chauffeur driven limos all round....

Meanwhile, in Carmarthenshire, the 'town hall tyranny' continues unabated. This Bill doesn't even touch the sides of our County Hall.

For your information, here's a link to the start of the 'Local Democracy' debate in the Senedd (June 18th);

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Getting involved

It's good to see new Members getting involved with council matters, Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) springs to mind, not only challenging the email 'snooping' at last week's meeting but standing up to the gentlemen on the podium on several other occasions too. Last October there was a memorable attempt to hold the leader and senior officers to account over the misuse of the council website..the Sainsbury's saga if you remember. He also put forward the proposal to allow the public to film meetings, which was naturally rejected by the ruling junta.

Some members, elected in May 2012 have taken a slightly more, shall we say, traditional approach to council matters. Residents of the village of Llangadog may not have heard very much from their new member, Cllr Andrew James (Ind), although hopefully they weren't disappointed last week to witness his first utterance, making a declaration of interest because he'd submitted his land for development in the upcoming Local Development Plan.
That's not to say Cllr James has not been busy. Far from it, back in April he had a new toilet block and solar panels approved by the planning committee for his recently established caravan site in the village. His membership of the council was, however, duly noted.

Barely two months later (last week, in fact), at one of Meryl Gravell's (Ind) exclusive Executive Board Member meetings for 'Regeneration' (public and press excluded), lo and behold, two Rural Development grants totalling £27,536.80 were approved, for that very same toilet block (with the addition of the now compulsory hot-tub) and those solar panels.

Was there any mention of the fact that the Councillor was the grant applicant? No. Was that within the rules? Who knows, but by the time this post has been read and digested, I daresay it will be.

Let's hope the electorate of Llangadog appreciate the efforts of their local Member.

Friday 14 June 2013

Welsh freedom of speech 'suppressed' says Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles is again turning his attention to Wales, and, not for the first time this year, (see 'Eric Pickles raises concerns about Carmarthenshire Council funding libel action') has mentioned Carmarthenshire Council.

The issue this time is the rights of the public to record or film open council meetings. Local Government transparency guidance from Mr Pickles, as we are often reminded, doesn't apply to Wales. My view remains that this whole subject area should have nothing to do with party politics (for those that are unaware, we have a Labour government in Wales), or devolved powers - it's a matter of general public interest.

But today, Mr Pickles has gone a step further and written to his Welsh counterpart, Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths AM;

A UK cabinet minister says he's concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed due to inaction by the Welsh Government. Eric Pickles, who's responsible for English local government, has released a strongly-worded letter he's sent today to his counterpart in Wales, Lesley Griffiths. 
It has become clear that there is now a gulf between what local taxpayers bloggers and journalists can do in England and Wales. Welsh councils are routinely blocking people's right to report or film council meetings, leading to the high profile case of a local campaigner being handcuffed and arrested in Carmarthenshire for trying to report a council meeting. 
I am concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed and as a result, waste corruption and incompetence is potentially being covered up. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government has not taken the opportunity to mirror the legal rights and practices that citizens now enjoy in England, and I would ask you to consider the case for enhancing openness and accountability in Wales. 
(ITV Wales)

The full press release from DCLG can be read here; Lights, camera, democracy in action and includes the following;

...The new rules do not apply to Wales, as they have not been introduced by the Welsh government who have devolved responsibility. This led to the situation of a blogger being arrested and handcuffed by the police for filming a council meeting in Carmarthenshire. Wrexham council also banned a journalist from the Daily Post from tweeting a council meeting. Eric Pickles has today challenged Welsh ministers to introduce the new rights in Wales too. 
Eric Pickles said: 
I want to stand up for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state. Data protection rules or health and safety should not be used to suppress reporting or a healthy dose of criticism. 
Modern technology has created a new cadre of bloggers and hyper-local journalists, and councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules. 
Councillors should not be shy about the public seeing the good work they do in championing local communities and local interests. 
I challenge the Welsh government to give taxpayers in Wales the same rights as those in England now have, and stop the scandal of free speech being suppressed in Wales’ town halls. 
[Notes;The Health and Safety Executive has slammed down suggestions that health and safety regulations prevented filming. [cited by Wirral Council to ban filming] 
Blogger David Allen Green of the New Statesman has blogged on the Carmarthenshire Council case. 
Last month, Wrexham Council u-turned on its ‘no tweeting’ policy following a campaign by the Daily Post. 
The Electoral Reform Society has accused Welsh councils of “conducting business like it was the last century”.]

I am pleased of course that the 12 month webcasting pilot in Carmarthenshire is underway, (see yesterday's blogpost) even if limited to a handful of full council meetings. I hope it continues.  But the principle of allowing members of the public to film or record open meetings must be established. It is perverse not to allow it.

What about Executive Board, Planning, Audit, Standards Committees? What about Scrutiny meetings? Can you imagine what would happen if I started filming the Executive Board - a repeat performance of #daftarrest? The only actual breach of the peace was caused by heckling officers and councillors, a fact recognised by the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police.

The Plaid group on Carmarthenshire Council tabled a Motion to allow the public to film late last year, this was rejected by the ruling administration.

I hope that the concerted opposition in the Welsh Government, recently successful in securing the establishment of an independent body to set chief council officers' pay against the will of the ruling administration, will listen to Eric, and try and do the same for the rights of Welsh citizens to record meetings.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Yesterday's webcast - almost home and dry...

Yesterday's live streamed council meeting started off according to plan, or according to the script anyway. For those unaccustomed to these meetings, the lengthy intro about fire alarms (note; members of the public in the gallery stay where you are, everyone else leave by the nearest exit) and the great emphasis on declarations of interest are entirely new and clearly for the benefit of the cameras.

The meeting has been archived and you can watch it yourself. It was all held together (just about), until almost the bitter end, when things began to unravel. It was at that point I suspect, that several of those present wondered how it was that they ever agreed to webcasting....

The first two hours or so were taken up with Plaid's Motion to make urgent representations to the Welsh Government over planning policy and the Welsh Language and how there should be a statutory consultation when large residential applications are put forward.

The LDP was discussed at length (after several councillors made declarations that they had put forward plots of land to it) and eventually the meeting moved on to the sale of 86 parcels of land, approved at the last Exec Board meeting.

The subsequent loss of play areas and green space and the failure of Exec Members to listen to residents was brought up but Council Leader Kevin Madge declared that they needed the money and couldn't afford to cut the grass.

For the details, you can watch it yourself.

Just when it appeared they were home and dry, Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) dropped the bombshell and asked about the email snooping. Who had requested that this was done, and why? Why was the councillor concerned never told? Was this common practice? He demanded a full inquiry into the matter and the full support of the leader Kevin Madge (who went very quiet).

Unfortunately for some, there didn't appear to be any way to call 'cut!'.

To see how this all panned out, and if you've got a spare 10 minutes, go over to the webcast, it's 2 hours 47 mins in or click on 02:47:13 on the right hand side of the page; .

There are a few points in the responses to Cllr Price that need clarifying;

When you listen to the initial response to Cllr Price, please note that the disclosure stage of the legal case referred to was in Autumn 2012, but the email in question was actually 'tracked' in September 2011. 
Secondly, no one has suggested, as far as I am aware, that there is a whole council department sitting there tracking emails. 
Lastly, also as far as I am aware, no one whatsoever has pointed the finger at any officer in the IT department. Cllr Price, and indeed anyone who is concerned about this matter has asked who requested the tracking, not who carried out the orders. The 'Attendance Note', for some reason, does not identify the requestor.

In addition, there's a surprising claim about covert surveillance from Cllr Bill Thomas, who, after initially being told to shut up, eventually gets his word in.

And last but not least, well done Cllr Darren Price.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Communion lager....

There's great excitement building up for Thursday's grand opening of the Towy Community Church evangelical bowling alley, in partnership with Carmarthenshire Council. The council have given the announcement a front page splash in the Carmarthenshire News and are pulling out all the stops. It even features in the official Civic Diary as the Chair, Vice Chair and respective consorts will be donning the chains of office and firing up the limo to attend the ceremony. Praise the lord.

I'll not go into the lengthy saga here, most of which concerns the controversy over £1.4m of council funds given to the Church which has a congregation of around 120. It can all be found by searching the blog.

Readers may remember that this project was hailed as a significant community enterprise by the then Leader, Meryl Gravell which could ease the social care budget through it's counselling services, foodbank etc, although, at the time, it appears the council had overlooked the links (now removed) to the discredited Mercy Ministries. Phase 2 of course, will include an auditorium, or a church to you and me. The previous 'Children's Champion' said in a council meeting that what every child in Carmarthenshire wanted was a bowling alley.

It has come as something of a surprise to many, therefore, to discover that the Church has applied for a licence to serve alcohol. Not just occasionally, but every day  from 10am until 9.30 at night. Even capturing the liquid breakfast trade. The Town Council were first to raise an eyebrow over this unexpected turn and next week the county council licensing committee are off for a visit.

I'm not sure exactly where the bar will be, somewhere in between the toddler play area and a counselling room perhaps. The Towy Church is a registered charity and also a registered company but for the purposes of this application it's wearing the charity hat. It is also puzzling that although the bowling alley has been described by the church as a 'separate' entity, the licence application is in the name of the Church.

The licensing application itself contains a couple of interesting objections, one from the nearest resident and one from the West Carmarthen Communion of Independent Churches. The resident makes an interesting comment regarding covenants on the land and that the Business Consortium who showed a prior interest in taking over the plot were put off after they were told these 'covenants' would never be lifted. What that was all about remains a mystery.

He also goes on to say that when the church held a consultation at the local school (close to the site) it was put forward as a safe place for youngsters to go, and people were assured that no alcohol would be available. He also makes the point that this is being run by a charity (the church), has attracted funding and does not have to pay business rates, so somewhere along the line does this not put other licensed premises at a disadvantage? Who knows.

The other objection is from representatives of over 3000 churchgoers and cites the Licensing Act 2003, 'safeguarding children from harm' and the Welsh Government Substance Misuse Strategy. Apart from seemingly at odds with being 'family' orientated, the church has been in receipt of a lot of money from the Welsh Government and the Council and the latter should exercise its duty of care to ensure that alcohol is 'not sold at a venue frequented by a high percentage of under-18s'.
One wonders whether a licence also meets the criteria of all the numerous Community and Heritage grants received by the Church.

One also wonders what the Towy Community Church umbrella organisation, the Evangelical Alliance will make of it, only last year they announced they'd be 'joining with other church groups to press for action on alcohol policy, for public health reasons, and for the benefit of local communities often blighted by alcohol fuelled social problems' They don't appear to have lodged an objection though...

The licence application can be seen here.

It remains to be seen what the Council Licensing Committee will decide, but judging by how accommodating the council have been so far with our evangelical friends, odds on it'll be passed.

Monday 10 June 2013

We are the champions

After a meeting of Executive Board members last week, council leader Kevin Madge in the latest PR move, announced several new 'Champions' and 'Ambassadors' of 'key themes' from amongst the politburo. There's nothing like tarting up the outside privy with a fresh lick of paint. One also wonders if a tear or two was shed during the meeting over their loss of pay-setting powers for senior officers...perhaps they even burnt a small effigy of Rhodri Glyn Thomas.

'Champions' are nothing new and in the past some of us have wondered whether there's someone with a sense of humour in County Hall as Cllr Pam Palmer once grappled with the alien concept of  'Modernising Local Government', badly, and the Children's Champion was a councillor, who, in polite circles would be referred to as 'veteran'.

It appears that Pam has lost the Rural Affairs responsibility and gained 'sustainability' and biodiversity. Voles and moths, Pam. Of course this is a council which believes that buying a couple of 'eco' cars is good for PR, rather than good for the environment. Despite being a largely rural county, 'Rural Affairs' doesn't seem to crop up much so Cllr Jim Jones who takes over, will have little to concern himself. Cllr Palmer also becomes 'Youth Ambassador'. Words fail.

The 'Modernising Local Government' portfolio seems to have slipped off the radar altogether. Maybe Kev's fear of Twitter has something to do with it. Or perhaps, with the reluctant 12 month filming pilot, County Hall thinks enough's enough. Long way to go yet chaps. I'm still here.

Pam may have been quiet over her rural affairs but she's been busy rubber stamping the latest 'review' of Information Governance, or in plain speaking; Freedom of Information, email usage and monitoring, Data Protection, internet security and all that jazz. So like the freedom of the press, it appears that this whole area has fallen peculiarly into the hands of Pam Palmer, the propaganda portfolio if you wish. Mind you, it was only a half hour meeting, public and press excluded, as is now the rule. Currently unable to track any details on the website. It's snoop-proof.

Cllr Jane Tremlett, big in social care matters, will be championing the causes of carers and the disabled. Nothing wrong with that of course and emphasis will be given to those caring for family members with dementia. I expect they'll need all the help they can get as Cllr Tremlett also brought out the rubber stamp at another recent Executive Board Member meeting to approve an increase of nearly 10% in the Standard Charge for an Elderly Mentally Ill (EMI) bed in council care homes. Public and press again excluded.

We will have Eisteddfod and Welsh Language Champions in the form of Cllr Keith Davies and Cllr Mair Stephens respectively. Cllr Stephens will also be 'liaising' with the Town and Community Councils, and instructed to persuade them to take over all the public toilets, parks, luncheon clubs, youth clubs and libraries....
Meryl's still in charge of that old favourite of multi-national companies and elephant keepers; Regeneration, no one's taking that off her without a fight.

So, in an effort to refresh the paintwork, and to soften the blow that we've got four more years of Kev and Pam, this announcement was sent spinning straight to the press office for the final coat of gloss. Expect no more than increased fuel expenses as 'Approved Duties' flourish and thus provide further photo opportunities for the Carmarthenshire News.

Oh, and don't forget to tune in to Wednesday's webcast of the monthly full council meeting starting at 10am. This time, as it's not an AGM, the fancy dress and civic nonsense should be less apparent... It will be available on archive afterwards for your viewing pleasure. 

Thursday 6 June 2013

Powers, Pay, and summer madness in Burry Port...a news round-up

A few news stories caught my eye yesterday, the first was the announcement from the Ombudsman that he'd like to have further privacy powers. He'd like to make some reports completely confidential and be able bring proceedings for contempt of court if the complainant, or anyone, then breached this confidentiality by contacting the press or publishing a report.

This, as numerous commentators have said, goes completely against the concept of the ombudsman being an open, independent investigator able to bring public bodies to account when necessary. I daresay some of those public bodies would think this was a great idea.

Sensitive reports are currently anonymised which, in most cases, is sufficient. Where there are any concerns that vulnerable individuals could be identified and suffer as a result of media exposure, the ombudsman should address the issue through the Data Protection Act, or similar, rather than the courts. He says there may be 'exceptional circumstances' when complete censorship is appropriate - the problem with that is one of definition, and the potential for gradually increasing the range of 'exceptional circumstances' inappropriately.

Kirsty Williams, LibDem leader said; “Media scrutiny as well as political scrutiny plays a vital role in ensuring that our public bodies deliver the good quality services that we expect of them. If we don’t know what’s going on across our public services and scandals are kept hidden, how can we be confident that we are getting the good quality services we deserve?”

Western Mail; Campaigners slam bid for new powers to keep ombudsman reports secret

Another story concerns Plaid AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas' amendment to the Local Democracy Bill to establish a national independent body to set council chiefs' pay in an open and transparent way. This comes largely from the fall-out from the Caerphilly council scandal but it is a growing issue as recent reports have highlighted the fact that senior officers' pay is not exactly part of the general belt tightening exercise.

Over the years the various loyal Executive Members of our 22 local authorities have acted as cash-cows, approving these high salaries whilst, in the case of Carmarthenshire anyway, refusing to implement the Living Wage for its lowest paid workers.

The Welsh Labour government has been digging its heels in refusing to accept the amendment, insisting the pay awards be decided locally. The situation is out of control with elite groups of councillors determining their bosses salaries in private session, and in the case of Caerphilly with the boss himself contributing the report and remaining in the meeting. Most unhealthy.

The opposition groups, Plaid and Conservative threatened to block the further passage of the Bill unless the amendment was incorporated.

The Labour government did a u-turn yesterday, in the face of a concerted opposition, and accepted the proposal. The final arrangements for the independent panel have yet to be determined. Hopefully Meryl Gravell won't be on it with her monkeys and peanuts quotes.

Here's the Western Mail again; Welsh Government climbdown over council chief executive pay welcomed

Lastly to strange goings on in Burry Port, Carmarthenshire, where the Town Council, or some of them, have decided to ban any councillor who writes a column for a local paper or is involved 'in any other way with the media' from sitting on any committees of the Town Council. It just so happens that one of them does, a Cllr Graham Davies. His weekly column in the Llanelli Star is the epitome of anarchy; gardening, folk music, football and the like etc.

The strange amendment was put forward by Cllr Steve James, who, since losing his seat in the County County at the last election also waved goodbye to possible leadership of the council, being tipped to follow in Meryl's shoes. He never seemed to worry about getting involved in the media 'in any way' then.

He was concerned that they should 'all be equal' and by writing a column in the paper a councillor was 'setting himself apart'. The mind boggles.

Even the clerk of the Town Council is also wondering if the amendment was entirely legal and is seeking advice.
Cllr Davies is wondering about his human rights.

There's a small, but very good Community Council not a million miles away from Caebrwyn, its Chair also happens to be a blogger. Don't expect that would go down well in Burry Port, or County Hall come to that.

Llanelli Star; Burry Port Town Council's committee ban on Star columnists

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Libel case - further comment

Carmarthenshire County Council issued a further statement yesterday in relation to their costs of the libel action, which I am now liable to pay. I was asked for my views and comment from the local press and the story was published today and available on the Carmarthen Journal website. There is also an article on BBC Wales online here.

I would like to add some further comments;

Clearly I am shocked at the amount of money which has been spent on this case. But, there were three and a half months between the publication of Mr James' letter in July 2011 and the commencement of legal proceedings. During this time there were efforts made to resolve the matter without going to court,  litigation could have been avoided. After the Defence, and Mr James' counterclaim were issued at the beginning of 2012, any quick resolution became increasingly complex and unlikely.

I had made a simple complaint and only ever wanted recognition from Mr James that what he had said in the letter on the Madaxeman blog was inappropriate and incorrect. Financial damages were not important. I did not, of course, expect to lose my claim nor the counterclaim. I had never received a complaint about anything   published on my blog until the counterclaim was brought.

I believe that this was a miscarriage of justice and remain of the opinion that the judgement has potentially opened the floodgates for similar actions against others who publicly scrutinise and criticise their local authority, including the press.

As I have said, I am appealing the judgement and the Notice of Appeal will be filed with the Court of Appeal by the 28th June.

As for the £230,000 costs, I do not have the means to pay it. As a further consequence of the serious allegations made in the judgement, my insurance, which would have covered the council's legal costs, has now been revoked. This sum is on top of the £25,000 damages awarded to Mr James personally.

My earlier statement, made on the 15th March 2013, immediately after the judgement was handed down, can be seen here

Saturday 1 June 2013

Worrying news from Cllr Sian Caiach...

The entry below is cross-posted from County Councillor Sian Caiach's People First website;

Saturday 1st June 2013 
Covert Surveillance of People First Councillor 
Like all Carmarthenshire County Councillors I was routinely issued with a council laptop and email address on being elected. The purpose appeared to be so I could use it for communications related my council work. However, it is now clear to me that anything I wrote , received or sent from this account could be and some were, accessed by council officers without informing me or the other recipients whose privacy was deliberately violated. 
A couple of weeks ago I was shown a document which Carmarthenshire County Council had released under a document search to someone else. The “Attendance Note Form” showed that the Council's IT security officer, had read and logged my emails in September 2011. The “name of client” was blank. 
In many councils the elected members “run the show” and as an opposition councillor, I should, if this was the case, suspect one of my senior elected colleagues in the ruling group of instructing an officer to snoop on me. However, Carmarthenshire appears to be an officer run council. Senior elected councillors with titles and extra salaries, which in other authorities indicate decision making power, show little sign of actually being in charge. 
And what is the email so serious that it has to be monitored by the administration? Some of you will remember that our Chief Executive Officer, Mark James CBE, posted a statement on a blog criticising another blogger's attempts to get our major council meetings filmed. After this he emailed the same statement to all councillors. I replied to him, disagreeing with his statement. 
Someone in 2011 had to find out who had received copies of my negative reply. 
The answer was I copied my reply to Mr James to quite a lot of people, all of my fellow councillors, an assembly member, a local town councillor and the blogger herself. Who was so desperate to know that, that they invaded my privacy without giving me notice or reason? 
Although I have submitted a Data Protection Act request to find out how often and by whom my council emails are read and monitored by my supposed employees, the Carmarthenshire local government civil servants there is as yet no reply. The report form applies only to one email but I would be surprised if it were the only email monitored and also if I was the only Carmarthenshire councillor snooped on.
          Councillor Sian Caiach, People First

(An earlier post from December 2011 on this blog concerns the 'Access to email' policy, however, as well as being ambiguous to say the least, it doesn't specify councillors emails, which may contain highly sensitive information from their constituents).

Also of interest, from August 2012; Ombudsman dismisses Chief Executive's complaints against Cllr Caiach;
My post here;

UPDATED; The Western Mail has picked up the story here, Councillor complains to Information Commissioner after local authority accesses her email