The Conservatives have renewed their attack on the Welsh Government for not following Westminster's example and defining the public's right to report, film and tweet what happens in local council meetings.
This time the criticism has come from a Tory party official after complaints from Cardiff Bay that an earlier letter from the Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, was 'entirely inappropriate' and showed 'astounding ingnorance'.
The Labour Administration in Wales is openly opposing the right for journalists and bloggers to tweet, film and report meetings. It is obscene that Welsh bloggers are being handcuffed and arrested in Wales for reporting meetings because they don't have the legal rights that English bloggers now have. No amount of bluster can disguise the fact that the Labour Party are the enemies of openness and on the side of town hall tyranny."
In the letter Ms Griffiths says it was 'entirely inappropriate' for Mr Pickles to intervene on a devolved matter; that it was 'discourteous' to make the letter public and that it was an 'extremely surprising and totally unacceptable interference by the UK Government in the Welsh political sphere.'
A Welsh Government source has claimed that a UK cabinet minster is talking "utter nonsense" about the suppression of freedom of speech in Wales. Eric Pickles made the claim because Wales has not followed his policy on openness in local government.
What Eric Pickles is saying about Wales is utter nonsense and completely untrue. What happens in Wales is of no concern to him whatsoever. He is developing an unhealthy obsession with Wales that raises many questions - not least because he is acting like an outrider for the Secretary of State for Wales.
The fact is, there is no way any UK Government Minister would talk about Scotland in such patronising terms. Yet, when it comes to Wales, Eric Pickles sees fit to interfere in areas that do not concern him. We take very seriously indeed that fact that Eric Pickles is now conducting an overtly political campaign at taxpayers' expense and we will be taking this matter further.
The shadow Welsh local government minister has defended the decision by a UK cabinet minister to officially criticise the Welsh Government for not following his lead in allowing the public to report film and tweet local council meetings.
As the Conservative-led Coalition makes further steps towards increased openness and transparency in local government, under Labour Wales is being left behind. Opening up council expenditure and meetings to public scrutiny is the best way to root out waste and avoid corrupt and inappropriate behaviour. In recent months in Caerphilly Council we’ve seen the scandalous wrongdoing that can occur when meetings are held in secret with the bumper pay increases that senior staff awarded themselves.
In an age of voter apathy, we should be making council meetings more accessible by encouraging engagement, live tweeting and web-broadcasting of all council meetings. I fail to understand why the Welsh Labour Government continues to defend keeping taxpayers in the dark about their elected representatives making decisions in their name with their money. Welsh Labour Ministers must move out the dark ages and allow the Welsh public to better engage in local democracy.
– Shadow Local Government Minister Janet Finch-Saunders AM
The row broke when the minister responsible for local government in England, Eric Pickles, released a letter he's sent today to the Welsh local government minister, Lesley Griffiths.
A UK cabinet minister says he's concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed due to inaction by the Welsh Government. Eric Pickles, who's responsible for English local government, has released a strongly-worded letter he's sent today to his counterpart in Wales, Lesley Griffiths.
It has become clear that there is now a gulf between what local taxpayers bloggers and journalists can do in England and Wales. Welsh councils are routinely blocking people's right to report or film council meetings, leading to the high profile case of a local campaigner being handcuffed and arrested in Carmarthenshire for trying to report a council meeting.
I am concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed and as a result, waste corruption and incompetence is potentially being covered up. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government has not taken the opportunity to mirror the legal rights and practices that citizens now enjoy in England, and I would ask you to consider the case for enhancing openness and accountability in Wales.
– Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP
Mr Pickles has issued new guidance for the press and public on their rights to report, film and tweet council meetings in England, following new rules on openness that the UK Government brought in last year.
Although responsibility for local government is entirely devolved, the letter has been sent by Mr Pickles' Whitehall department, meaning that it's an official UK Government position, rather than just a party political attack by a Conservative on a Labour minister.