Thursday 22 November 2012

Paranoia in County Hall


It seems that the council has been ordered by the fire officer to re-open the fire exit. It has been locked  since July 2011, with the council claiming that it had made sure that it was not in breach of fire regulations. That was clearly not the case, and as a result the council has put the safety of the public at risk in order to defend what it calls an "operational decision" to clamp down on anyone who might record what is said in public meetings.

Meanwhile the council can expect to hear from Mrs Williams and Cllr Thomas who are understandably very upset and angry to be branded as liars live, on air by the council's press office.


Today's edition of the Jason Mohammad programme on Radio Wales featured a short piece on the extraordinary measures taken by Carmarthenshire County Council to make things as unpleasant as possible for members of the public wishing to exercise their democratic rights to observe council meetings.

Two members of the public, Mrs Lesley Williams and Mr Wyn Thomas, took part in the programme, and they described the process which everyone has to go through to get through the doors and into the public gallery. Both had particular concerns about public safety, as visitors to the public gallery are locked in and have to phone for assistance to be let out again. Moreover, as another member of the public recently discovered, the fire exit at the bottom of the stairs leading to the gallery is locked and bolted.

The council, notorious for its love of PR, was "unable" to take part in the programme, but issued a bizarre statement, accusing Mrs Williams, a retired school teacher, and Mr Thomas, a town councillor in Carmarthen, of being part of a campaign which was spreading lies about the council.

The statement went on to claim, completely falsely, that there is no "lock down", although it rather gave the game away when it revealed that members of the public had to use a telephone to get out.

On previous occasions, the council has also claimed that in the event of a fire, the doors would open automatically. While that may or may not be true in the case of the doors operated by a swipe card, it is certainly not true of the old-fashioned doors at the fire exit, which are locked with old-fashioned keys and old-fashioned bolts.

The statement also used security as one of the justifications for its policy, although it did not bother to produce any evidence of a security risk.

The truth is that the policy was introduced in response to an attempt by Caebrwyn to film part of a council meeting nearly two years ago. Prior to that the gallery was accessible to anyone who wanted to climb the stairs, and the council clearly did not consider the public to be a security risk.

Neither Mrs Williams nor Mr Thomas are part of any campaign, as far as I am aware, and both almost certainly have a case in law for defamation in the light of the claim, broadcast live to a large audience, that they are spreading lies against the council.

Listeners to Jason Mohammad's programme were surely shocked to hear a local authority behaving in this way, and the court of public opinion will have decided who was really lying here.

The programme will be available online for a further 7 days, and can be found here. The interview begins after approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.


Jac o' the North, said...

Surely this is now a fire and safety issue. So has anyone asked the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service to get involved?

Cneifiwr said...

Yes, Jac. Last time round the fire service took the council's word for it that everything was OK. Mrs Williams is now having another go.

You mean there's more??? said...

Just get a photograph of a locked fire door - there is no argiung with that and then smelly stuff has to say hello fan.



Anonymous said...

The whole set up is a shambles.

Anonymous said...

I thought there was a strong whiff of defamation going on.
Why on earth demonize two private individuals who seek greater transparency from their Council?
The council sought to confuse the issue by comparing the building to BBC buildings, but Mrs Lesley Williams outlined a series of procedures that would give the public confidence and find the entire process enabling.

Anonymous said...

Can't help but be amused by the fact, these heavy handed public gallery rules were introduced post Caebrwyn filming episode, yet you write elsewhere Carmarthen Council have a bloated PR department, yet fail to transform this issue. Mrs Lesley Williams has a terrific set of ideas on how this could have been presented to the public.
A boxed set of "Yes Minister' should go to Kevin Madge this Christmas

Anonymous said...

Lets vote in Councillors next time who will stand up and be counted.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Putting people at risk really rings a bell. I don't apologise for bringing up my complaint again because the Council have failed to deal with it. I have been reading up on my report again published in Sept. 2009 and the Ombudsman (referring to the assault on me)says,(point 269, page 81), "The failure of Officer B and Officer F to take effective action against Officer C, when on the 20th June 2005, Officer C had slapped Ms West(me) indicates that the incident was not seen as important. The culture in which such incidents were tolerated exposed all the service users and the staff to risk". Yet the assault on me has never been investigated and 13 months later a service user who couldn't speak was hit so hard over the back of the head it basically lifted her from her seat.
In later documentation the Council states, and I quote, " The conclusion of the Ombdusman that the assault had occurred was not based on a proper investigation of the allegation because only the claimant was interviewed about it".
The Ombudsman saw a copy of the witness statement and the Council failed to investigate a serious complaint. No one from the Council has ever interviewed me about the assault so how can they say it never happened if they haven't even interviewed me or investigatd it?

Anonymous said...

I think it is high time Carl Sargeant stepped aside and matters pertaining to this 'Hubris' affected Chief Executive, who controls Carmarthenshire Council, is fast tracked to the First Minister. For Gods sake when will someone in our so-called Government going to take some action?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't sound like this is the first time the Ombudsman has been undermined

Delyth Jenkins said...

Both Officer B and F still work within the Social care department. Is the Director oblivious to what's going on?

Anonymous said...

Accusing people of "having a campaign" or being troublemakers would appear to be the standard response of the Council to fair criticism.

A PR department that advises such means of dealing with members of the public asking valid questions is not one that most large employers would wish to engage.
Perhaps the advice they actually provide is ignored by Council officialdom? Either way, they don't appear to be that successful.

The more I see and hear about this Council, the more I wonder what the colour of the sky is in their world.

Owen said...

As I understand it, Carl Sargeant is a qualified fire officer from his previous line of work. Hilarity ensues.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, it would appear that this is not the first time CCC have breached H & S

Delyth Jenkins said...

An assault in the workplace is also a Health & Safety issue.