Monday, 23 January 2017

A Rotten Borough - a collection

This week's Cadno opinion piece from the Carmarthenshire Herald features a guest contribution from his friend, Melvyn the Mole. Possibly inspired by last week's national accolade bestowed on a certain senior council employee by Private Eye, Mervyn was moved to obtain permission to reproduce a small selection of the numerous Eye articles relating to our council, mainly from the Rotten Boroughs section from over the past few years. The full Cadno piece is at the end of this post.

With grateful thanks to Anon for the graphic

This reminds us of those other honours achieved by the best council in Wales. Runners up in the Legal Bullies of the year, winners of the Hellfire award and PR Plonkers of the year. As for PR Plonkers, Carmarthenshire council has had quite a rap sheet with regards to the local press, from threats to withdraw advertising because of mildly negative press...and then actually doing it. From demanding the retraction of a reporters Freedom of Info request, to having its own unique, and unlawful addition to its constitution...currently suspended...

There has been much written about the council's relationship with the local media on here and elsewhere over the years and in particular the attempts by County Hall, well, the chief executive, to exert editorial influence over the local independent press.

The former Police Commissioner, Christopher Salmon (Con), who recently labelled the council a Sicilian cartel, withdrew the police cash contribution from the council rag, the Carmarthenshire News a couple of years ago saying he'd prefer it went to independent media, trusted by the public. It is not known if the new Commissioner (Plaid) has reversed the decision.

The Cadno article stresses the importance of robust, independent local journalism, listing several examples from the latest edition of the Eye;
"One can only gasp in awe at the sheer arrogance, brazenness, contempt and disdain some people have for the general public. The very people who toil so hard and pay their taxes to keep said Council Leaders, Chief Executives and Executive Board Members of councils all over the UK in employment. They'd have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those pesky news people"
It is those pesky news people, or rather their decline (apart from the Herald), which feature in an article over on Press Gazette, an interesting read with a warning, from a former local newspaper editor, that the growth in PR officers, cushioning those in authority, is now outnumbering local investigative reporters:
"...And this is having a profound effect on society, reliant as it must be on the checks and balances that govern the relationships between its institutions and its citizens. 
“I can tell you having recently returned from that front line, with only a mild dose of shell shock, that whole areas of life that should be public and debated and questioned are now in danger of disappearing from public consciousness. Town halls, trust boards, courts, quangos all going about their business unhampered by tiresome questions with no light being shone in the corners. 
“We are in danger of losing the ability to hold people to account, speak up for the powerless, those lost in the systems. 
“It is still the case that when people are in trouble, cannot get answers, do not know where to turn, think they are a victim of injustice, have exhausted all avenues for recompense, they turn to a journalist. 
“And in places where rumbustious journalists – I call them affectionately troublemakers – still exist, the psychological effect that has on institutions cannot be underestimated. 
“How many chief exec’s, chief constables, trust chairman, communication managers, union bosses, council leaders, politicians of all sorts factor this sublimely into their decision making: ‘what if this gets into the press?’.” 
“My real fear now is those bosses and decision makers are beginning to rest a little easier, often surrounded as they are by a phalanx of communication officers (often fleeing journalists) who taken together now outnumber journalists working in the patch..."
County Hall has always considered its extensive media empire, or Department of Spin, a priority cause. There is nothing wrong with disseminating essential information of course but Carmarthenshire has always gone above and beyond with the notorious press office sometimes considered to be the first line of defence, or attack, notably against the Appointed Auditor over the unlawful payments. The press manager even joined the County Hall detachment to London for the duration of the libel trial. (However, it was Thompson, not James who featured in The Times leader on the final day ;)

Unlike schools, social care and other frontline services, the council press office has usually escaped the worst of the cuts, and with a tender just gone out for photographic and video services, it seems that it's business as usual.

Usefully for County Hall, the Sell2Wales Codes required for the tender are very explicit with regards to the duties which will be expected from the lucky bidder (my circling);

From Sell2Wales

Cadno - Carmarthenshire Herald 20th January;

Click to read (apols for the poor scan)

Most of the Private Eye articles, and the background to the stories can be found throughout this blog, and another, from November last year, can be found on Mrs Angry's excellent Broken Barnet blog.


Elderly Neil. said...

I have put my comment on my timeline on Facebook. I cannot adequately express my disdain
for Carmarthenshire County Council here because it would exceed the moderation that this
facility rightfully employs.

Anonymous said...

Confirmation, if any was needed, that taxpayers in Carmarthenshire are being shortchanged by this rotten council. It's worse than that, we are paying into a system which attacks us if and when we have issues that require addressing. Do we actually have a Government in Wales. If we do then it is invisible and silent. Welsh people do NOT have a voice.