Wednesday 15 January 2014

Email snooping...still avoiding the issue

At a recent meeting of the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee concern was expressed as to the mysterious whereabouts of the promised report into council email snooping.

Readers will remember that early last year Cllr Caiach became aware that her council email account had been 'tracked', without her knowledge, back in July 2011 by 'officer unknown'. The issue was brought up at the June 2013 council meeting where members were told that it was all part of the disclosure stage of the libel case and so it was on the orders of the high court.

This was not true. The disclosure stage of the case was late in 2012, eighteen months after the email was tracked.

Councillors wanted reassurance that surveillance such as this wasn't a common occurrence. And as Cllr Caiach became a witness against the council during the case, this question is all the more important.

Anyway, the Head of Law told councillors at this scrutiny meeting that a report had indeed been prepared but they wouldn't be able to see it until the Executive Board had considered it first.

Kevin Madge, at last week's Executive Board made it clear that there would be a full report on the libel case. He added that it would "show the truth" regarding Cllr Caiach and the case. We can't wait Kev.

I am also looking forward to being able to enlighten councillors as to what has been happening over the last two and a half years.

A couple of other interesting points also cropped up at this scrutiny meeting concerning the forthcoming budget. When asked whether the council could do without the executive motor + driver altogether, (rather than reducing it from two to one) officers insisted that the poor Chair works 'extremely long hours' and this mode of transport was essential. All those civic dinners across Wales, poor soul.

Similarly, there are no dramatic cuts to the department of spin on the horizon either. The press office, understandably I suppose, needs all the resources it can get to try and improve the reputation of the council. Kevin Madge's little outburst last week didn't help. Interestingly, councillors were told that parts of the press team were 'grant funded'; maybe it's available from the North Korean Overseas Development Fund...

Meanwhile the £3.94m black hole in the Social Care budget also came up for discussion, the only option, they were told, was 'political support' for the officers' proposals to close care homes, respite centres and day clubs....

Councillors at this meeting have also been patiently waiting for over a year for a report on 'the process followed and officer involvement in preparing and agreeing press releases'. This goes back to the ombudsman's findings in March 2013 that Cllr Kevin Madge had breached the code over the 'Sainsbury's' press release. It also relates to the general disquiet over who is actually controlling the output of the department of spin...

Conveniently, senior officers seem to have decided that the best course of action is not to write a report so that the scrutiny committee has nothing to scrutinize and cannot ask any awkward follow up questions and hold anyone to account...they were told 'there was no decision for the Committee to scrutinise'. 

Funny that, because through a Freedom of Information request I was told that 'Press management meetings' are held every Thursday, attended by the Leader Cllr Kevin Madge, Deputy Leader Cllr Pam Palmer, Press
Manager Debbie Williams and occasionally other officers as required. I also asked for minutes or meeting notes from these meetings but was told that 'These meetings are informal therefore there are no agendas or minutes'. Surprise surprise.

As for news on the unlawful payment scandals, things remain quiet. The Wales Audit Office were present at the last meeting of the Audit Committee in relation to other matters. Those other, non controversial matters, are reported in the minutes but as for the unlawful payments, or 'procedural issues' as the council prefers, all we have is this;

"In addition to the above reports the Audit Manager (Wales Audit Office) took the opportunity to update members on procedural issues which remain under consideration with the Appointed Auditor".

The wait goes on.

As for the EU State Aid queries concerning the Council and the Scarlets, the BBC reports today that the European Commission has acknowledged that it is looking into the complaints regarding possible illegal state aid funding. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The European Commission shouldn't stop at the Scarlet deal! They need to investigate all ESF projects run by CCC.