Thursday 28 September 2017

Carmarthenshire Council's Flag Policy

Update 18th February 2018; The council are still refusing to fly the Rainbow Flag.

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In the grand scheme of things, the business of flying flags might not be one of the most important issues facing Carmarthenshire but the refusal to fly the Rainbow flag, the universal symbol of support for diversity and inclusion for LGBT rights, from civic buildings has been something of an ongoing saga, especially as almost every other public organisation in the UK happily flies the flag during LGBT events. Some have even wondered whether or not the religious sensibilities  of certain senior officials may have crept in to public policy...

Recent background can be found here. A few weeks ago I made a Freedom of Information request for the elusive and unpublished Flag policy 'adopted' in July 2015 (deemed 'necessary' due to excessive demands for flag flying...actually there were just two recorded requests) and it's finally turned up, albeit a little late. The full thread, and the policy, can be found here.

The policy is interesting for a couple of reasons.
Last year the Carmarthenshire Herald reported on a request from a community organisation for the Rainbow flag to be flown. The request was rejected by the chief executive. He said that whilst the council might support community organisations, "We" (the royal 'we' of course, there was not a whiff of councillor involvement) "have taken a view that this does not extend to flag flying at civic buildings". 

This isn't what the policy, adopted twelve months previously, states. There is no blanket ban and it states that 'Ad hoc' requests would be considered, and although the council reserves the right to reject requests, it was a matter for the Leader of the council, and not, we must assume, the chief executive. If you're going to cobble a policy together you might at least try and stick to the basic message.

I've looked at a few other flag policies (ok, yes I should probably get out more...) and out of those, no special consent is required for the Rainbow flag at all and in general, community organisation flags are happily flown for a special event. In fact the council's Rainbow flag (they do have one) made one very brief appearance, just after the Orlando massacre, and fluttered just long enough for the press office to dash out and tweet a picture, policy or not...

The rest of the policy is largely taken from central government guidance which includes detailed protocol for flag flying on assorted royal birthdays etc. Interestingly, for us in Wales, the Union Jack "will be displayed in a position superior to any other flag", including the national flag of Wales. Who knew?!

As you can read from the Herald article, the council featured in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. This year the council disappeared completely from the Index. It seems, from this Freedom of Information response, that the council's senior management decided to 'pause and review Stonewall membership'. We don't know why.

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