Castlereagh Council fails to keep their promise to publish council minutes online

I experienced a sense of déjà vu when I browsed across to the minutes section of Castlereagh Borough Council’s website.

It was only in the aftermath of the Iris Robinson / Lock Keeper’s Inn cafe revelations this time last year that Castlereagh reversed its previous policy and started to publish its minutes online. I’ve blogged over on Alan in Belfast about Castlereagh’s online presence quite a few times over the past years. The council put out a press release on 18 March 2010 to explain:

At the February meeting of Castlereagh Borough Council, a procedure was approved to allow all ratified minutes of Council, its Boards, Committees and Sub-Committees to be placed on the Council’s website. Officers were also asked to investigate the practices in other Councils regarding the publication of commercially sensitive information and ‘Staff in Committee’ items. It is anticipated that these issues will be ratified by full Council on 25 March 2010.

They started well, and managed to publish PDFs for December 2009 and January 2010. And then it dried up. After asking in May 2010 for copies of the missing minutes covering the spring period, they started publishing online again.

But since June 2010, only two items have been added to their Council Minutes webpage. (Click to see the full – empty – list of minutes.)

Back in March 2010 the Socitm report surveying council websites was less than enthusiastic about the Castlereagh site.

Their team of reviewers pointed to a “lack of customer focussed content” and that “it would be good to … have some online forms etc”. They “couldn’t find an events calendar or councillor’s allowances/expenses”. But perhaps most importantly, “No search facility found” … “Add a search facility”.

Looks like it will be a while before Castlereagh Borough Council truly embraces the internet and voluntarily publishes its business online.

(Strangely the page holding links to the minutes is entitled “Waste FAQs”!)

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  • Castlereagh Council are a joke. Having recently moved into the area I’ve been gob-smacked by their complete ineptitude and downright ignorance. From building inspectors not familiar with their own regulations, begrudging responses to enquiries from employees and ignorant officials who believe it acceptable to point at sections in forms instead of speaking and explaining, never mind passing a pleasantry.

  • Cynic2

    The term ‘waste’ refers to the average standard of debate.

  • Alan, check out Moyle – it lists Agenda and Minutes, the latter from 2004 onwards. The minutes are passed one month in arrears and now appear a few days after they are passed.

    If there’s a delay I can email Richard Lewis, the CEO, or leave a note on NALIL blog and the matter will be dealt with promptly.

    You may note there, er, is currently a delay. I wonder if a mention on Slugger will do the trick 😉

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Not a big fan of the Internet anyway but ironically I am having a problem getting info out of Castlreagh on the subject of “Social Housing” in the area.

  • granni trixie

    I think that Alan is implicitly drawing attention to the fact that NI is catching up on the age of technology and with modern values encouraging the public to expect accountability,fairness and transparency and to complain when this is not apparent.

    I was browsing on NIW (it being topical) for instance and was surprised to see that nowhere could I find reference to current list of non exeucutive Directors whom Connor Murphy appointed “in the interim” without public advertising (when some others had been sacked). This was before Martin O’Muilleor threw his hat in the ring for SF at BCC again and he is one of the current non ex. Directors of NIW.
    From memory, do they not get 24K per annun for 2 days work per month? So why no mention on NIW website? Why are they not being asked questions as to what they are doing for their 24K?

  • Granni – NI Water board members details are on their website – but it’s not that simple to navigate to find the information. (The trick is to check both the left hand and right hand columns for links!)

  • granni trixie

    Thanks for all that – I stand corrected.

    However, there still remains the puzzle about why O’Mulleoir is not being put on the spot to answer questions about what his contibution to NIW plans to date have been (for 24K), particularly as a prospective BCC councillor.

  • Rory Carr

    I suspect, Granni, that a very good reason for O’Mulleoir’s failure to answer the questions you want answered is that you haven’t yet asked him.

    Clairvoyance is not yet an attribute highly developed even among potential Sinn Féin councillors I understand.

  • granni trixie

    I ought to have made it clearer – why have journalists not been asking such questions of him or even included him in their deliberations? Especially as he was Connor Murphy’s
    choice and lo and behold O’M. then announces that he is going back into politics.
    I find that journos usually have an agenda in what they leave in and out. Or I conceed, I may be surmsing a conspiracy theory too far?

  • DC

    Another question needing asked by journos:

    where was most water lost – out of domestic supply (pipes in and around the house) or distribution networks (reservoirs to roads to homes)?

  • Rory Carr

    What exactly is it, Granni, that you believe that non-executive directors of NIW are not doing that you believe they should be doing?

    Perhaps if you spelt out exactly what you believe their failure to live up to their responsibility to be, then there might be an opportunity for a response or even for some journalist who is not involved in a conspiracy of silence to take your concerns further.

  • Rory Carr

    p.s. Is it Martin O’Mulleoir alone among the non executive directors that you accuse of a failure of duty ? It certainly seems so.

  • granni trixie

    OK. Rory. Whilst I am not 100% sure what a “non ex.Director” does, I am basing what I expect on what I know from being a Director/Board member of 3 bodies (unpaid). Two of these would have incomes of around 2 million but I grant you not in the league of NIW which seems to be more extensive,difficult and specialist.

    I know that people on boards nowadays have to be very conscious of planning to mitigate risks and foreshadow problems by creatively discussing various scenarios. Anything to do with systems of financial control or tendering for instance is strictly scrutinised – everyone on a Board nopwadays knows that they could have to answer to the public if something goes wrong. In the case of NIW plans for bad weather are obviously a key considerations. were

    I have singled out O’M on the Board because at the time he was appointed I thought it iffy that the MInister chose him for that unadvertised post, it looked like conflict of interest given their close poltiical connection.When O’M subsequently re-entered the political arena, this seemed to suggest that O’M was being given an opportunity to rebuild a political profile. A few of the other nonex. Directors have spoken out in other roles in NIW but he is, so far, silent. He cant have it all ways.

    But ofcourse I think that everyone who is paid in a strategic planning role on NIW has to be prepared to explain what they do for public money.

  • Rory Carr

    But what you are suggesting, Granni, is that the non-executive directors (and you have singled out Martin O’Mulleoir in particular) have failed in their duty to do something which their role obligates them to do, so I rather think that the onus falls on you to specify what exactly you believe that failure to be.

    In the absence of your willingness (or ability) to so specify there is a danger that you will be seen to be doing no other than carelessly throwing mud for party political reasons by advancing spurious and non-specified smears against someone who just happens to be a political opponent.

    Wouldn’t you agree ?

  • Frame

    Castlereagh are nearly as bad as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission who haven’t posted any minutes for six months.

    That’s transparency for you.

  • granni trixie

    Yes, I do not support SF and from his public presentations, cannot warm to Mr O’Mulleoir. However, I also feel that in the present climate, it is fair enough to suggest that the person on the Board with an overlap with a relevant political party (and who paid 24K) should be prepared to (a) either defend NIW and its leaders on grounds that all planning that could be done was done or (b) make constructive criticism. Above all reassure the public that they should have confidence in NIW (or not and resign).

    It stinks to high heaven but we know we wont agree, dont we?

  • DC

    The Community Relations Council’s minutes could do with an updating as well:

  • granni trixie

    Frame: Since you mention NIHRC. I was just wondering why I had seen nothing in print about the decision on 23 Nov 2010 of Eur Court of HR in respect of the Holy Cross case, taken by a mother and daughter and supported by NIHRC.The 7 judge court held that the application was inadmissible on all 4 grounds (articles 3,8,13,14) – because the police had taken all reasonable steps to protect the parents and children. It therefore has taken 4 court decisions to reach a commonsense outcome which ought to have been obvious 9 years ago. What a waste of resources!. (for anyone interested, I am sorry I noted this on the internet at the time but have forgotten the links with passing of time).

  • Rory Carr

    So, Granni, still no evidence, nor even a concrete assertion, of any failings by Martin O’Mulleoir in his duties (or any other NED for that matter, although you single him out in particular) ?

    Do you hold that it is the responsibility of any one particular non-executive director to make public criticism of his board or his executives ? If so you have a curious idea of how a non-executive director is expected to behave.

    Your attack on O’Mulleoir is without substance and is clearly motivated by spiteful political considerations. Not very edifying I must say.

  • Of course, didn’t MO’M stand down as a non-exec director of NIW when his Balmoral candidacy for Sinn Fein was announced in December. November was probably his last board meeting. The two sets of minutes that are on the site show that he attended both meetings. However, being minutes written with being publicly read in mind, they don’t give much information.

    Let’s bring the conversation back round to the topic of councils … and Castlereagh’s opaque policy of transparency.

  • DC – by the way if you scroll down quite a bit (on the CRC Minutes webpage (search for “19 October 2010”) you’ll find more recent minutes under the “Council” section … a tad too well hidden!

  • granni trixie

    You didnt get it, you attack me – but I am immune to what you think.