It was only a week ago I highlighted the fact that two Conservative councillors had been suspended recently in Powys. Today, the Council announced that a third Conservative councillor has been suspended from his duties for a period of three weeks.
Councillor Gwynfor Thomas, Llansanffraid ward, has been found guilty of breached the Code of Conduct and “bringing his office or council/authority into disrepute”.
Let’s hope this is publicised far and wide before people go to the polls in May.
It’s a good news week for Plaid on the local level. Today, Plaid gained three members after they decided to cross the floor from Llais Gwynedd. Seimon Glyn (Tudweiliog Ward), Gweno Glyn (Botwnnog Ward) and Gruffydd Willaims (Nefyn Ward). Now with 38 councillors, Plaid is in a clear majority on the council. It is certainly good to see further unity in Gwynedd against the politics of austerity that will surely come in the years ahead from central government.
After a period of silence on this blog I make my return with news of scandal! In a local politics first for this blog, what better way to dive in than on a “scandal”. News came from Llanidloes town hall that there has been misuse of funds, in particular the use of the council groundskeeper on the private garden of the town clerk.
It would seem that the council’s groundskeeper worked on the clerk’s garden while he should have been working for the town council. The scandal, however, comes from the fact that the town council voted to “sweep the matter under the carpet”. According to the council, accounts are audited as required, and the auditors have not called this into question.
A petition is now doing the rounds calling for an investigation into the matter. I wonder whether this issue is being used by individuals who happen to be standing in the 3rd of May county council election? Hmm….
It been a couple of months since I began enquiring into local authorities’ attitudes to blogging, tweeting, and in particular filming at their meetings. All of Wales’ 22 authorities have sent a reply to my enquiry into policies they have on this issue which can be seen here. It would seem that most councils do not have extensive or definite policies on the issue of the public filming at council meetings. What is clear is that most councils leave permission to film at council meetings at the discretion of mayors or, in most cases to the council chairperson. This is, of course a reasonable policy, however there are no guidelines for chairpeople to follow, which outlining under what circumstances can they allow or refuse filming. When I attempted to ask about such guidelines my requests were refused due to their “similarity” to my initial requests.
It is interesting to note, however, that the Welsh Government has not given any information or guidance to Welsh councils on this issue. I asked,
“Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please provide copies of
B) discussions (emails / memos)
sent to all or any Welsh councils relating to the following:
1) filming of council meetings
2) tweeting at council meetings
3) blogging of council meetings”
“I have not found any information that fits this description. The Minister for Local Government and Communities has not issued any advice, directives or memos to Welsh councils regarding this matter.”
Of course the Welsh Government would argue that they leave such issues to the local authorities, however, this lessaiz fare attitude isn’t always the case in Welsh Government and local authority relations.
It would seem that the minister thinks that filming without prior consent shouldn’t be allowed; fair enough say you, however this is just licence for controlling chief executives, mayors and chairpersons to avoid transparency which suppresses local democracy. The minister also explains that he disagrees with filming people without their knowledge and permission, again fair enough; however, councillors are public representatives and are acting publicly in council meetings, so should be ready for people to film them while debating and voting on matters that will affect their constituents.
However, I contacted the AM regarding her view on the principle of filming should be allowed in council meetings. However, the principle isn’t expressly discussed in the reply, but the minister does outline that the Welsh Government does support councils’ engagement with the public. The minister has not, as of yet, set out guidelines for councils on this issue as shown in my recent FOI request, he does encourage councils to make the maximum effort in engaging the public in their proceedings. However without guidelines councils won’t do anything they don’t have to. This is all ambiguous stuff, with the minister relying on good will, and as we have seen, some councils are short of that.
It was good to see that the minister commends Carmarthenshire’s plans to webcast proceedings, and that it is an example to other councils. However a similar idea (Carmarthen TV) has been mooted for a while and as of yet is still to be seen. I suppose time will tell.
Tonight I received a reply from Swansea council regarding filming and photography at council meetings. It would seem that a councillor has already fallen foul of their policy of taking photographs at meetings, where he was forced to remove photos he had taken down from his Facebook page.
This isn’t something unusual with our local authorities. Neither is the standing order requiring permission form the chairperson to take photographs or film at council meetings. However, after asking, and gaining permission to take photographsother Swansea councillors objected to this claiming that it would be an invasion of their PRIVACY!!!
Below is the relevant part from the minutes of the meeting where this was discussed (31/3/11)
201. PHOTOGRAPHY AT A COUNCIL MEETING
The Leader of the Main Opposition Political Group stated that Councillor R Speht had breached Council protocol and had taken photographs at a Council meeting and had published them onto his Facebook account. He asked Councillor R Speht to remove the images and to apologise for his actions.
Councillor R Speht stated that the images had now been removed and offered a full apology to Council for his actions. He also sought permission from the Chair of Council for him to be allowed to take photographs at this Council Meeting.
The Chair of Council allowed the request.
(Note: A large number of Councillors objected to this and stated that they wished to maintain their right to privacy and that no image taken by Councillor R Speht should be published without those Councillors in the picture giving their consent.)
Surely standing, and getting elected isn’t the best idea if you want to protect your own privacy! These people claim public money in expenses and yet are quite content in blocking transparency in their meetings!
Today another of my FOI came to fruition with Powys county council replying to my request about filming tweeting and blogging at their meetings. It is quickly becoming clear that councils tend to only allow filming at meetings with permission from the chairperson. However no council go on to clarify what the criteria chairpeople use to make the decision to allow filming or not. Here’s what Powys has to say in their rules and procedures document,
“20. RECORDING OF MEETINGS OF THE COUNCIL
No recording shall be made of the proceedings of meetings of the Council whether audio or visual and by whatever method except with the express authorisation of the meeting. If a person records the proceedings of any meeting (or causes such recording to be effected) without authorisation then the Chair will order their removal from the meeting room and shall not permit them to be admitted to a further meeting except on a written undertaking to desist from such recording “
Yesterday I received a reply to my FOI request from Anglesey regarding their stance on filming, tweeting and blogging at their meetings (Link below). To put it simply, Anglesey has no policy nor any standing orders regarding filming at council meetings. However in an e-mail released under the request it is made clear that “Historically,it is unlikely that the recording of public meetings by the public would be tolerated.” It does, however concede that media are allowed in to film beginning of meetings (councillors entering etc.)
It is, however, to note that the council are piloting audio recordings which will be put on their websites, post meeting. Why pilot audio and not film? It is also worth noting that the arrest in Carmarthenshire of @caebrwyn has gained the attention of council officers in Anglesey at least.
I’m glad to hear that there are some movement out there on the issue of filming at council meetings. It would seem that Plaid Cymru councillors in Wrexham will seek to scrap Standing Order 45 (page 4-18), which prohibits council meetings without the chair’s permission.
Here’s what the standing order says,
“45 *PHOTOGRAPHS AND RECORDING AT MEETINGS
Proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded or transmitted in any way outside the meeting without prior permission of the Chair. Failure to comply with this Standing Order may invoke Standing Orders 14 and 15 relating to Disorderly Conduct and Disturbance by members of the public.”
This is something Rhondda Cynon Taff should consider doing also.