Sunday 5 February 2012

Misinformation - Carmarthenshire's Press Office issues a "clarification"

Carmarthenshire County Council is continuing to tie itself and the public in knots with its unpublished and anti-democratic "rules" on access to public meetings.

After announcing last week through the medium of a Freedom of Information response that the protocol requiring the public to sign legal undertakings not to film or otherwise record meetings was being discontinued, the Press Office has now gone into action to clarify what this means in practice.

The Press Office says in its latest statement that it wishes to correct "misinformation being circulated on blogsites" that the relaxation would allow filming.

To be accused of spreading misinformation by the council's notorious Ministry of Spin is rather like being accused of phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch, and once again it has shown that accuracy and honest use of language are not part of its culture.

In recent days, it has again used the word "several" to mean "two", and "policy" to mean "something made up which has not been written down or gone through any of the accepted procedures for policy making by a public body". Now it uses the word "blogsites" to mean one particular blog.

Accurate and consistently truthful use of language is important, particularly if you are in the business of representing a public body to the wider world. Each time you distort, exaggerate or mislead, you are driving another nail in the coffin of your credibility.

But back to the clarification. The new "policy" is that the public will still have to go Reception in County Hall (previously the public could access the gallery from an external door). There they will have to sign in as a visitor, stating their name, address and the purpose of their visit. They will then be shown a statement  forbidding the recording of meetings, and will be required to state that they are in agreement with it.

This is apparently being done to reduce the administrative workload of processing members of the public who wish to visit public meetings.

But in fact, if the Press Office is correct, the new procedures will have precisely the opposite effect. Certainly until last week, the public had to sign two separate slips of paper, one of which was a standard visitors' slip (name and date required only). Now, apparently, they also want our addresses and the reasons for visiting County Hall. That's a lot more information than previously, and it will take a lot longer to fill out what will, presumably, be new forms.

Having done that, we then have to negotiate the verbal consent hurdle. What happens if someone mumbles? What happens if someone says, "I disagree with this whole charade, but I won't be filming, etc."? Will an impromptu tribunal then be convened to debate whether the individual will be allowed in or not?

Not the least negative impact of all this nonsense is that, even if you arrive 15-20 minutes before a meeting starts, the time taken processing forms and the long wait before the wardens decide to ferry everyone up to the meeting means that, almost invariably, the meeting is underway before the public is allowed into the gallery.

Of course, all of this assumes that the Press Office has got its facts right. But if they are correct, then true to form, the "reduction in the burden of administration" will actually be a significant increase in form filling, there are likely to be more daft disputes in the Lobby, and actually getting into the meetings on time will be less likely than ever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what tosh!! i have heard it all now. i wonder if it is actually a legal requirement to supply an address? i haven't come across this before. wonder if they ask for my address next time i want to use a council public loo. or next time i go to pay council tax.

how bizarre (anon2)