.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, April 04, 2013

What is the problem with some Community Councils?

There has been a spate of news stories recently around Town and Community Councils in Wales that raise a number of questions about the way that some of them conduct themselves and their members' understanding of transparency and accountability.

The latest is Pontypool Town Council, which has decided that it does not like being scrutinised on it distributes grants to local organisations. According to this report Councillors have barred both the press and the public from any part of its meetings where such Local Project Funding grants are discussed:

The council has £30,450 a year to give to local groups, which range from male voice choirs to local schools and sports clubs, among others.

Each of the 21 members of the council has a personal yearly allowance of £1,450 which they can contribute to causes of their choice, with full council ratifying their decision.

But now they will give that money away in secret, with residents only able to find out how their money has been spent at the end of each financial year, when the council says it will send the Free Press a letter detailing all the grants.

The Free Press understands the move has been made because councillors were upset about getting complaints from groups which hadn’t received funding or which hadn’t got as much as another group in the area.

All of this is completely illegal of course but so far the local paper has not been able to get hold of anybody to confront them with it.

There are other examples. Coedffranc Community Council recently took advice from One Voice Wales as to whether it is possible for one of its members to publicly disagree with its decisions. Councillors were reportedly shocked that the answer was in the affirmative.

In Llanelli, the Town Council recently ejected a Llanelli Star trainee reporter from a council meeting and had his notes confiscated after 45 minutes:

Chad Welch attended the meeting, in which councillors were discussing a campaign to protect local health services, last Thursday after the Star was invited to attend the event.

Welch had been taking notes for a quarter-of-an-hour when councillors became aware he was a reporter and told him the meeting was private.

He was told by rural council clerk Mark Galbraith to hand over his notes and leave. Welch tore the pages out of his notebook and left.

Galbraith then refused to return the notes to Welch, who joined the Star in January, on Friday afternoon.

As far as I am aware the newspaper are still trying to recover the notes.

Finally, there is the strange case of Prestatyn Town Council and their problem with Freedom of Information requests. The BBC report that the Council wants make changes to the Freedom of Information Act after receiving nearly 600 questions and information requests in the past three years, mostly from one individual.

Its clerk said dealing with them last year took 30-40% of his time, which equates to about £17,500 in salary.

In short this appears to be a problem with the individual rather than the Act of Parliament but that has not stopped the Council focussing on the symptoms rather than the cause.

I happen to believe in the efficacy of community and town councils but their members sometimes make it difficult to offer such support.
Borough Councils and Community Councils need to look at what they are supposed to do and to remember that they are public bodies. This secrecy drive is getting out of hand and if allowed to continue will make George Orwell's book completely true.
The idea of Big Brother was then futuristic but looking now who would say it is a figment of the imagination?
Councillors have barred both the press and the public from any part of its meetings where such Local Project Funding grants are discussed: [...] All of this is completely illegal of course
It's a grey area, as I discovered on Blaenhonddan Council. The original Thatcher/Howe legislation which guaranteed openness of council deliberations was later watered down.

They missed LLanwinio community council completely (that will please the members) who have never once held a public meeting. Many who live in this Carms rural parish think no comm council exists (that's the way they like it) This council presides over important things like local planning and gets a paid secretary yet this community does not exist..or does it?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?