Friday 14 December 2012

December Council Meeting - Part 2: The Rogues' Gallery

After the opening announcements, complete with squirrel, it was time for the council to get down to business, and first up was Peter Hughes Griffiths presenting a motion which called on the council to allow filming and recording by the public of council meetings beginning in January 2013.

Caebrwyn carries a thorough account of what happened next here. The arguments in favour (openness, transparency and the fact that it would not cost the council a penny) were well put by Peter Hughes Griffiths and Alun Lenny for Plaid. Of greater interest are the arguments and tactics employed by those against.

Carmarthenshire County Council was about to show to the world and the people of Carmarthenshire why it has gained such a dire reputation. Politicians who complain about lack of public engagement, cynicism and the low esteem in which politics and politicians are held need look no further than this debate.

No sooner had the case for the motion been put than Kevin Madge was on his feet reading very badly from a piece of paper. The delivery was so poor that it was impossible for the public to understand what was being said. In the last couple of months the chief executive and others have made a great deal of fuss about sticking to the published agenda for the sake, allegedly, of the public. The amendment was not printed on the published agenda, and the public were not provided with copies of it.

From what emerged over the next half an hour, the amendment was a actually a rival motion which made no reference to the proposal tabled by Peter Hughes Griffiths, and it had the effect of negating it. That is not allowed under council standing orders, but the Monitoring Officer was on hand to rule that the amendment was fine; it was just deferring matters. As we shall see, matters may have been deferred for a very long time indeed.

One of the main arguments against allowing the public to record meetings was that councillors might be quoted selectively or out of context. So here is a selection of quotes which are all firmly in context. Cneifiwr's comments in red.

Kevin Madge (Lab): People in the public gallery would use recording for political purposes. It was also contrary to the Equalities Act because not all councillors could be seen from the public gallery. It was democratic that the press should report on council meetings, and this had been going on for generations.

Meetings of the full council are political meetings. It is true that some backbench opposition councillors cannot be seen easily from the gallery, but the people who actually run the council are all clearly visible. While Kevin Madge was suggesting that press reporting was enough, people in Ammanford were reading in their local paper how the council has been doing its damnedest to muzzle the local press.

Pam Palmer (Ind): When Jacqui Thompson was spotted filming part of a meeting in June 2011, Pam Palmer appealed to the Child Protection Act. If people could not film children at random, why should they be allowed to film councillors in public meetings? This time she changed tack to warn that members of the public might fall from the public gallery as they leaned over to film proceedings. Filming by the council could turn out to be very expensive, and it might attract very few viewers. People in the gallery might use very sophisticated editing techniques to distort what had been said. Later she said that control had to be taken away from the public gallery.

In other words, Pam agrees with Kevin Madge that the public is not to be trusted, and she remains opposed to filming and recording full stop.

Giles Morgan (Ind), absent from meetings of the full council in recent months, agreed with Pam.

Calum Higgins (Lab), the youngest councillor by miles, chirped up that he was backing the amendment.

Bill Thomas (Lab) reckoned that we were in the silly season before going on to show what he meant: people recording meetings might fall from the balcony. 

Jeff Edmunds (Lab) wanted openness and transparency, and so was going to vote against allowing the public to record.

Darren Price (Plaid) wondered why councillors who had supported allowing public recording in the Policy Scrutiny Committee not so long ago had changed their minds.

The answer is, of course, that unlike the scrutiny committee meeting, this was a whipped vote. And all those independent-minded Independents did what Pam had ordered them to, as did every Labour councillor. The council which says it will be open and transparent in everything it does made sure that the lights remained switched off.

The amendment, which was not an amendment, was carried by 41 votes to 23.

We had now reached part two of the debate in which the "amendment" had now been reborn as a motion.

The debate continued in the same vein, and I will not bore you with it.

What did emerge in the second part of the discussion was that after kicking the can down the road for 18 months, the proposed pilot has not been costed and there is no budget for it. Kevin Madge, referring perhaps to a permanent filming service, said he was not prepared to spend £100,000 on filming when he was busy making cuts to social services.

So no recording by the public and quite a strong possibility that the whole thing could be killed off next year.

The last word goes to the normally sensible Derek Cundy (Lab) who urged caution and spoke of the global scale of the consequences of any decision.

Perhaps Cllr Cundy thought he was addressing the United Nations General Assembly, or perhaps he was dimly aware that the council had once again made itself a global laughing stock.



Anna Mosity said...

Despite having voted for the Assembly, I find CCC as the biggest example of why it is a failure.

This web page for the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Bill:-

Here they are wasting time re-arranging boundaries and making community councils publish contact details on a website, when what is needed is real action to force democracy in places like County Hall, Carmarthen.


Anonymous said...

Things are not right why is a Plaid community councilor/county councilor voted against filming etc in a community council meeting and then go to a county council meeting and vote for it , i am lost for words or is it all a show >>>>??????? what do you think ... i believe in oepn goverment