As predicted, the "relaxation" of entry procedures which had been advertised turned out to be the exact opposite, and Cneifiwr arrived to hear angry members of the public arguing with council officials about the new arrangements. Only last week, we were told that procedures were being simplified to reduce the administrative burden, but what you now have to do to get in to a public meeting is:
- Read a lengthy written statement on a laminated card telling you that it is forbidden to film or otherwise record public meetings. You then have to indicate to the apologetic receptionist that you agree to this.
- Next you are presented with a new form, available it seems in English only, on which you have to state your name (in capitals), address, and then sign and date, again to confirm that you will abide by the ban.
- Next you have to sign and write your name on a standard visitor's slip.
- Finally, you have to wait until the wardens are ready to ferry you to the public gallery, where you are still locked in.
As things now stand, therefore, the only people who are made to give personal information about themselves when entering County Hall are members of the public wishing to observe a supposedly public meeting. How this squares up with data protection legislation is unclear, and contrary to what Carmarthenshire County Council claims, it is almost certainly the only council in the British Isles which treats its people in this shabby way.
One very angry member of the public said he intended to seek legal advice on these arrangements. Since most of our democratically elected representatives don't seem to be bothered, let's hope he carries out his threat.