A NUMBER of Powys County Council meetings are being held without the public and press being allowed access to watch them.
Opposition councillors were surprised to find that no-one was allowed to watch the debate live and Conservative group leader Cllr Aled Davies tweeted that the new administrations “open and transparent approach” to governing Powys had fallen at the “first hurdle.”
Since then, former cabinet member and journalist Graham Breeze who is part of the Independent group has tabled a number of questions on the issue to new Powys council leader, Cllr James Gibson-Watt .
Cllr Gibson-Watt is also responsible for an “open and transparent Powys.”
Cllr Breeze said:
“The decision to deny the press and public the right of live access to scrutiny, planning and other committee meetings is a direct contradiction of the council leader’s title.
Following local elections in May councillors have returned to the council chamber at county hall in Llandrindod Wells for some meetings.
Full council, cabinet and planning committee meetings now take place as “hybird meetings”.
This means that some councillors are in the chamber and others take part online.
Full council and cabinet are now open to the public who can also attend meetings in the chamber or view them live online.
While people are also able to attend the planning committee in person, they cannot view it live online.
Now a recording of the planning meeting is uploaded to the council’s website after the meeting has finished.
The council’s scrutiny meetings on education, social service, environment and economy are now only held online.
But there is no public access, with residents not being able to attend a meeting in person or watch it streamed live.
The meetings are also uploaded to the council’s website after the meeting has finished.
The issue became apparent at a meeting Learning and Skills scrutiny committee which discussed the future of primary schools.
Cllr Breeze added:
“Prior to Covid restrictions being put in place the press and public had open access to committee meetings.
“During Covid restrictions the press and public had Zoom or (Microsoft) Teams access to committee meetings.
“Now they are only offered a recording facility which is totally unacceptable.”
Under the rules of questions at anytime, Cllr Gibson-Watt has until Monday, July 25 to provide answers.
A spokesperson for Powys County Council said:
“The council meets the current requirement of broadcasting full council meetings live; it also broadcasts live meetings of the cabinet.
“There is no current requirement for any other meetings of the council to be broadcast live.
“Some meetings including scrutiny and planning were broadcast live, however, it has been decided that for now these meetings will be recorded and will be published on a website within 48 hours of the meeting.”
Electronic broadcasting of meetings was part of the Welsh Government Local Government and Elections Act (Wales) 2021 came into force last year.
It cemented emergency legislation that was brought in during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 which allowed meetings to take place remotely.
Under the new law all Welsh local authorities, community councils, national park authorities, fire and rescue authorities and port health authorities must: “make and publish arrangements to ensure:”
That they can broadcast meetings electronically so that members of the public not there can see and hear proceedings.
In March, the Welsh Government opened a consultation which closes on July 22 , which looks at shaping new guidance for councils on how this law will be managed.
This consultation document confirms Powys’ view that they only have to broadcast full council meetings live at the moment.
But the Welsh Government state that this is a “first step” and that it: “intends to extend this requirement to a number of other council committee meetings in the future.”
The Welsh Government aim to publish the new guidance in the autumn.