Monday, 21 October 2013

Online interests

I noticed today, via Twitter, that Carmarthenshire Council is not the only council who refuses to publish, online, the Register of Member's Interests, gifts, hospitality etc. South Tyneside Council in England published a very late (18 months late) response to a request for a copy of the register and told the requestor they'd have to view it in situ in the council offices.

Many council's routinely publish this information, Swansea and Pembrokeshire do, and, as we know, it all help to make local authorities that little bit more transparent. You may remember I made the same request (to Carms, not South Tyneside) and myself and an assistant had to spend a very uncomfortable hour or two in a very small room under the very vigilant eye of the Head of Democratic Services (See Sacred Parchments December 2011).

Given that each councillor has their own web page giving ward/contact details etc (and a handful even produce an annual report) I thought the ongoing omission of their declarable interests/gifts was just an oversight, but I was wrong.

Six months ago I made a request for the minutes of the Business Management Group meetings.
The group, made up of party leaders and senior officers makes recommendations to the Executive Board. The response finally arrived last Friday (exceeding the 20 day limit by five months) and you can view the minutes here. The group seems to meet on a bit of an ad hoc basis, and mainly when the Head of Legal/Chief Executive need to make some 'alterations' to the constitution. The BMG recommendations have never known to be rejected by the Executive Board..

I can only imagine that the extraordinary length of time it took to respond was because those who attend see it as something of an informal talking shop. Unfortunately unaffiliated councillors are excluded from the group whereas the leader of the independent group is not. Bizarre.

Anyway, back to the Register, and the BMG minutes show us that the group decided to specifically exclude this information from online records in April 2011.  Since then, the Welsh Government as issued guidance requiring councils to publish the information online and this guidance has been, er, 'noted' by the group.

Of course, the whole issue of declaring interests is a thorny issue at the moment, for senior officers anyway and as for official Guidance, Carmarthenshire Council has form for ignoring it; even official 'Orders', and even when it has adopted it itself. (this is a 2006 report to council, see No. 3, subheading 'Defamation')

Update 28th October 2013;
Political Scrapbook (@psbook) have looked a little further into South Tyneside Council's antics over the Register of Member's Interests, gifts and Hospitality and discovered that they are breaking the law by not publishing the register on their website. The Localism Act stipulates;
(5) The monitoring officer of a relevant authority other than a parish council must secure—
(a) that a copy of the authority’s register is available for inspection at a place in the authority’s area at all reasonable hours, and
(b) that the register is published on the authority’s website

As I said above, in Carmarthenshire the BMG voted against online publication of the register in April 2011. In April 2013 the BMG minutes state that the group were advised by the acting head of law that "notification had been received from the Welsh Government on proposals to require County and County Borough Councils and Town and Community Councils in Wales to publish their Register of Members Interests online." 
This was "Noted" and "No Further Action Required"

Quite what became of these WG proposals is not known to date, suffice to say there is still no Register of Members' Interests, Gifts nor Hospitality published online in Carmarthenshire.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When our council refused to publish them we consulted them at the council office and photographed them all and put the photos online - after all, they are public documents. Shortly after that, the council decided to publish them on its website!