Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Electoral Commission v Powys County Council

I have already posted on this row between the National Assembly and the Electoral Commission on the one hand, and Powys County Council on the other. The Assembly Presiding Officer and the Electoral Commission jointly sent a strongly worded letter to the Chair of Powys asking that the decision to refuse to promote the Assembly Election, taken by the officers of the Council be reversed, explaining that only Powys of the 22 councils in Wales had refused. It seems that Michael Jones, the Chair responded by saying that Conwy and Gwynnedd had also taken the same line, and that the council couldn't afford it anyway (though I have not seen a copy of the letter).
I have now seen a copy of the Electoral Commission's response to this letter. It is fairly obvious to me that the Electoral Commission does not fully accept the Council's version of events and are 'tamping mad' about the Powys attitude. I publish this letter below. You can judge for yourself.

And a big thank you to The Pool Card Company.

The paragraph that interests me is the first. The Electoral Commission did not 'publicise any previous correspondence to the media'. They sent me a copy and I published it - on this blog. And now that I have individuals who work for Powys, telephoning me about things that the Council wants to keep secret, I can see this blog being kept increasingly busy !

Dear Councillor Jones,

Thank you for your letter dated 12 March.

Firstly, may I clarify that the electoral Commission did not publicise any previous correspondence or any additional information related to the distribution of the leaflet in question to any section of the media.

It may help if I give some further background about the issue of the distribution of the information leaflet. The Commission held a series of briefing sessions with electoral administrators across Wales to discuss a number of issues related to the upcoming elections to the National Assembly for Wales. Powys County Council were represented at the session in Swansea on 5th December 2006. At this session the proposed information leaflet was discussed, with attendees being advised that the Electoral Commission and the National Assembly for Wales would be responsible for the design and production element. Local Authorities were asked to take responsibility for the distribution of the leaflet (not including costs), in the most effective manner, to every household in Wales. This would be consistent with the new statutory duty of local election officers, under the Electoral Administration Act 2006, "to encourage the participation by electors in the election process", including at elections to the National Assembly.

The Commission followed up the briefing sessions with correspondence providing additional details about the leaflet, so that individual local authorities could plan for distribution.

We were advised by Powys County Council officers, however that they were unable to arrange for distribution. All other Local Authorities in Wales agreed to make arrangements to distribute the leaflet by various means, including the local authorities of Conwy and Gwynedd.

I am pleased to say that a local distribution firm in Powys (The Pool Card in Welshpool), having heard a report regarding this situation on a local radio station, has come forward and offered their help in the delivery of the resource. Commission staff are now dealing with this company in ensuring that each household in the county will receive a copy of the leaflet.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Yours sincerely, Glyn Mathias, Electoral Commissioner


Alison said...

If Powys has a legal obligation, as per the Electoral Administration Act 2006, "to encourage the participation by electors in the election process", then it effectively breaking the law, and what about judicial review here? Powys is going outside its delegated authority, and ignoring the wishes of parliament?

Or have I missed something?

Glyn Davies AM said...

alison, I'm not sure that Powys will have broken the law because the wording is so imprecise - but I have not the slightest doubt that they have broken the spirit of the law. And it seems as if they couldn't care less.

The most worrying aspect of the letter is that the Council must have complained about the original letter being made public. I believe that there is a climate of secrecy being created at the Council which is totally inappropriate in a local authority - which represents the people, or is supposed to.

I will print anything I hear about that should be in the public domain.

Anonymous said...

There was a story a few weeks ago about this coucil hunting down a whistleblower when they hadnt carried out proper checks of staff working with children. Perhaps powys should be renamed the gestapo. keep up the good work exposing them for what they are.

Anonymous said...

powys is a bloody disgrace and every councillor should lose the right to vote

Anonymous said...

when I used to work in Local Government Glyn the Council sent out demands for Council Tax at this time of year - so why couldn't the Electoral Commission leaflet go in the same envelope? Perhaps Powys County Council has decided not to bother with Council Tax for 2007-08 or maybe the new climate of secrecy there means they won't tell us Council Tax payers how they are spending our money!

Glyn Davies AM said...

anon, I think that the council think that I am the 'whistleblower' who informed the media about the failure of the Council to carry out Criminal Records checks. I have already been interviewed by a 'special investigator' brought in by the Council -and at what cost?
I would love to be able to claim that I was - and wear the badge with honour. But the truth is that I cannot make such a claim - much as I'd like to. I may do a seperate post to encourage all whistleblower to get in touch. We need to break up the culture of secrecy.

The climate of fear in the Council is now so all-pervasive that some people are almost afraid to talk to me - for fear of reprisals from within the fortress.

Left Field said...

In my experience, leaflets go into the bin unread. So Powys may be saving a lot of unnecessary expense.

I receive the local council's "aren't we wonderful" proganda sheet. I've got a great one step move, straight from the letter box to the recycle bag.

I think billboards and TV & Radio advertising would be far more beneficial.

Glyn Davies AM said...

I just don't agree with left wing about this. The reason that the Electoral Commission didn't want to just use the Post Office delivery service was because there was a greater liklihood that people would read a communication from their council. The idea was that each council would know best what would work in its own area. Powys is the only council not to have agreed.

There will be no cost saving because the Electoral Commission has employed a local private company to do the job instead.

Anonymous said...

There's no "almost afraid to talk" to you Glyn. There's one senior Councillor who is under so much pressure that he not only won't meet you (much as he'd like to) but is very wary of coming anywhere near your office in Welshpool in case the traffic warden is also employed part time by the Gestapo!!

Glyn Davies AM said...

And this is supposed to be 'our' local authority! Its timefor a change of attitude.

Anonymous said...

With an ex naval officer as Chief Executive I suppose that the council will shoot the whistleblower on the quarter deck of a rowing boat on Llan Dod boating lake a la Admiral Bingh. What is really worrying is the thought of a councillor being frightened to meet poor old Glyn for fear of retribution from the thought police.