Interest in these private arrangements grew last year as 'Meryl's Meetings' gained the unwelcome attention of the press, the Wales Audit Office and the WLGA Review panel.
"The [WLGA] Review Team heard from a number of non-executive members and members of the public who expressed concern about the transparency of Executive Board Member Decision Meetings. There was no apparent non-executive member witnessing of and therefore limited opportunity to call-in or scrutinise delegated decisions made by individual Executive Board Members....and concerns that some individuals had significant delegated authority regarding funding and the distribution of grants to external bodies" (WLGA report)
The cross-party group set up to consider the WLGA recommendations has "Agreed to ask the Executive Board to consider allowing any Member to attend and observe Executive Board Member meetings"
Quite why the Executive Board has to be 'asked' rather than told, is beyond me, similarly it is being 'asked' to consider webcasting its meetings and, amongst several other polite requests, to 'consider' allowing Members to ask questions at its meetings.
Anyway, the latest Executive Board Member Meeting, which may have attracted some questions and scrutiny if any notice of it had been published beforehand and if Members were allowed to attend, concerns advertising on the council website. This, along with 'Communications' and 'surveillance' are, unbelievably I know, within the remit of that stalwart of press freedom, Cllr Pam Palmer.
In a 15 minute meeting between Pam and the Communication Manager, 'it was resolved' to launch a 6 month pilot to place commercial advertisements on the council website. The plan, not unknown amongst local councils, is to generate a bit of revenue, not a bad idea of course, but online advertising, on a publicly funded government website, is a little different to an small hoarding on a council roundabout and Members may have wished to comment.
It's a move unlikely to be welcomed by the local press either who's very existence seems to be dependent on advertising and who will now be competing with the council for limited advertising revenue.
As for compliance with the bi-lingual requirements of the website, advertisers would merely be encouraged to provide advertisements in Welsh and English.
Careful monitoring, and hefty council disclaimers, would be essential to ensure compliance with council policies such as health and equalities, never mind the assorted pitfalls of linking to external commercial sites and possible inappropriate content.
Care would also need to be taken to ensure that no adverts inadvertently compromised our council's wonderful reputation;
A case arose a while ago whereby a local council also decided to have advertising on their website. You'd never guess who got priority adverts? That's right, the councillor's own businesses. After a few days other adverts popped up including alcohol and even dating websites. When challenged on the grounds that they (the council) were promoting alcohol to minors, their excuse was that they had no control over what was advertised. Further checks revealed that they had signed a contract, which allowed AY advert on the site at the discretion of the advertisers, who frankly didn't give a damn what content it included as long as they got their money. Yes, there are pitfalls and of course with the wealth of knowledge our councillors possess on al things technical (that'll be ZERO) we can be sure that this will end in tears.
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