The subject of what this unloved propaganda sheet actually costs cropped up in this week's Carmarthen Journal as part of a lengthy article supplied courtesy of County Hall, and reprinted word for word by our local paper. The article is "the Council's" response to Plaid Cymru's alternative budget proposals for the county council.
"Council" in inverted commas because, of course, councils cannot actually write articles for newspapers; only people can. And when it comes to people, there are only two varieties in councils: elected political representatives and unelected and supposedly politically neutral officers.
The Journal does not tell us who wrote this piece, which takes up almost an entire page, but we can take it for granted that it was written by council officers rather than Kevin Madge or any of his fellow Executive Board members.
The phrasing of the article and some of the arguments deployed will be familiar to anyone who has
studied council press releases and statements made by the chief executive who also, as it happens, takes a very close interest in the content of Carmarthenshire News.
When the Plaid group published its proposals it noted that it was very difficult for anyone outside the inner sanctum to get a grip on the details of the council's finances. They also requested a peer group meeting with senior Labour and Independent councillors to discuss the upcoming budget as elected representatives, rather than with the council's officers who had already published their own proposals. As we know, that meeting was refused.
To illustrate just how hard it is to get to the truth of the council's finances, it is worth recalling a visit by a group of armchair auditors to County Hall a couple of years back. They were exercising the right which all citizens have to inspect the council's annual accounts, and they included in their number a real life auditor.
What they were presented with was a collection of files containing codes and numbers with very little in the way of wording to explain what the numbers actually related to. The group was particularly interested in the council's spending on its newspaper and the press and PR departments, and they got nowhere.
Items of expenditure would appear in the files, only to be zeroed out in a huge thicket of cross charges. An item which appeared frequently turned out to be the time spent by officers on particular projects, and that was invariably zeroed out and cross charged to something else.
When the group asked to see the documents which these numbers and codes referred to, the request was instantly refused. The public may have a right to inspect the accounts, but only the bits which they can make no sense of.
Here is what the council press release has to say about the Carmarthenshire News in this week's Journal:
Carmarthenshire News is a Local Service Board publication, the council is just one partner and cannot control frequency without consent of all partners. For the next financial year there is a budget of just £12,000 for Carmarthenshire News. If the council pulled out of this partnership and distributed one annual sheet as suggested by Plaid that would cost more than the £12,000 budget.