Friday 20 September 2013

Local government transparency - Welsh Minister responds

During last month's mid-summer spat between Eric Pickles and the Welsh Government over filming meetings, blogging etc (see here) I dropped a line to Ms Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Local Government minister, on that very topic. After the usual seventeen-working-days wait I had a reply from the 'team', which I have published for your information, along with my enquiry, in full below.

Whether councillors are allowed to tweet from meetings, as opposed to people in the public gallery and the press, remains unclear. I believe Carmarthenshire Council forbid the activity, not that there'd be a sudden rush of course...

As for publishing spending details, surely this is becoming essential as budgets become tighter. The fact that only three out of twenty two local authorities currently do this is inadequate to say the least. Welsh Government and local councils cannot continue to emphasize the importance of scrutiny, which they all do, without giving residents, and councillors of course, the facts and means to scrutinize.

As for filming meetings, I don't think 'encouragement' is going to be enough.

To; Minister for Local Government, Wales. 
Dear Ms Griffiths 
As I enquired on Twitter, I would like to know what further steps the Welsh Government will be making to facilitate citizen journalism given the critical comments made by the Minister for Local Government in England. 
I am particularly interested to know when the Welsh Government will be issuing similar guidance to Welsh local authorities to open up their meetings to enable the public to film and tweet, blog etc. I believe such guidance is long overdue and the principles of transparency should cross devolved boundaries and party politics. 
I would also like to know when guidance will be issued to require Welsh local authorities to publish all their spending details in an appropriate format. 
Your predecessor, Mr Carl Sargeant stated that he would 'encourage' councils to allow filming but there has been little progress. The money made available by the Welsh Government to fund webcasting of council meetings was welcome but the principle for public filming must, in my opinion, be established. 
I look forward to your comments,
Jacqui Thompson

And the reply.....

Welsh Government 
Eich cyf/Your ref
Ein cyf/Our ref TO/LG/01688/13
20th September 2013 
Dear Mrs Thompson 
Citizen Journalism 
Thank you for your e-mail of 27th August, sent to the Minister for Local Government and Government Business. I have been asked to respond. 
The Minister has placed on has placed on record her support to Local Authorities, who have allowed their meetings to become more accessible to the public. Although not a requirement on Local Authorities, the Minister has encouraged them to make arrangements in the interests of public engagement and transparency. 
At present 20 of the 22 Local Authorities in Wales now allow blogging and tweeting from public galleries, with another two yet to develop policies. 
The Welsh Government does not intend to issue guidance to welsh Local Authorities, allowing filming and blogging is a matter for each local authority to decide for itself, but the Minister urges all councils to give the matter serious consideration. 
The Minister has continued to voice her support for the principles of openness and transparency with regards to the publishing of public expenditure data. A great deal of data is already published and the Minister has not seen any evidence to demonstrate that any benefit would be obtained by making it a statutory requirement for Local Authorities to publish such information or that this would be an effective way to achieve transparency. 
It is for each authority to decide how it deploys its resources to provide the best value for money for its citizens and to be accountable to its electorate for the decisions it makes.
Three authorities in Wales do currently publish details if expenditure over £500. These are Monmouthshire, Newport and the Vale of Glamorgan. 
Yours faithfully.

Scrutiny, Democracy & Participation Team


Cneifiwr said...

The "Scrutiny, Democracy and Participation Team" appears to have been named using the same thought processes that went into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Anonymous said...

Are you going to write back demanding a response from the organ grinder not the monkeys?