Wednesday 12 September 2012

Merched y Wawr and the Mujahedin

Off to Carmarthen today to see democracy in action, or rather the September meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council.

Fortunately the need to earn a crust will prevent Cneifiwr from attending any more council meetings for the foreseeable future, as they are held at times when most people of working age are unable to attend. Perhaps we will one day be able to watch them online.

In the meantime there has been an exchange of correspondence (here) between Mr John Butler, a resident of Flintshire, and the Local Government and Communities Minister, Carl Sargeant.

Mr Butler writes eloquently about how the proceedings of so many public institutions, from committee meetings at Westminster and sessions of the Welsh Assembly to the Leveson inquiry can be watched by anyone who can access the Internet. Not so Welsh councils.

Mr Sargeant responds briefly to express the hope that councils will embrace the "principle of recording council meetings", while reminding Mr Butler that they are by law supposed to allow the public to attend meetings unless there are "confidential or commercial" matters under discussion.

As we know in Carmarthenshire, proposals for the transfer of public toilets to community councils are just one example of  highly sensitive confidential and commercial matters which can be used to close meetings to the public.

Unlike his colleague in Education, Carl Sargeant has a paralysing phobia when it comes to intervening in anything. Just about every letter he writes seems to contain some variation on the theme of not wishing to stick his ore in to local government business, which clearly has nothing to do with him as minister for local government.

Perhaps his staff have created special macros in Microsoft Word so that, by pressing just a couple of keys, they can spew out a range of stock sentences such as "It is not my intention to issue guidance or advice on this matter".

The Minister's reply to Mr Butler does however contain one interesting novelty, which is the need "in modern society" to consider security.

As far as I am aware, this is the first time anyone has suggested that allowing the public into meetings of Welsh councils has security implications.

Will Abergwili Community Council have to find funds in its budget for airport scanners and machine-gun toting policemen? Will the public gallery in County Hall have to be screened off with bullet-proof glass?
The implications are immense.

Perhaps as a government minister Carl Sargeant is privy to classified information from MI6 about groups which may pose a threat to Welsh councils. Are Merched y Wawr secretly planning a mass attack in Ceredigion? Is the Baptist Mujahedin grouping in Ynys Môn? Will the Llandovery Allotments Association strike in Carmarthen?

Thank goodness for Carl Sargeant. How could we sleep otherwise?

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