A row has broken out at RCT Council after the Chief Executive accused Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell of passing on sensitive information related to staffing numbers and salary grades. A few days later changes were announced to the email rules being enforced to stop Councillors having emails forwarded from their Council accounts to private ones.
The accusations come following a recent spate of anonymous Facebook and Twitter accounts which upset certain Labour members - as reported in the press there were threats of Police action when two Twitter accounts parodied Cabinet Members.
Councillor Powell explains
"Someone has set up a Facebook and Twitter account under the name of RCT Twaddle and this person posted spread sheets containing a list of employee posts and salary grades within the Council. A few weeks after these appeared I received a frankly insulting email from the Chief Executive, Steve Merritt, stating that he was aware that, as he put it 'some of the information posted' had been provided to me by the former Chief Executive back in November 2013.
"He went on to say that he was 'considering whether or not to commence a formal investigation into this data breach which would include reporting it to the appropriate regulatory authorities.' He asked for assurances from me that I had handled the information in accordance with the Members Code of Conduct and that it was not copied, used by, or disclosed to anyone else."
Mr Merritt said he was concerned individual employees and their salaries could possibly be identified from the information and that it was a breach of data protection. Councillor Powell says he is "quite frankly appalled" by the accusation and the threatening nature of the email.
"I have no idea who this RCT Twaddle person is - my only interaction with him or her has been the occasional comment via Twitter or Facebook. If Mr Merritt had actually looked properly at the information posted by Twaddle and compared it to the information which I was supplied with he would have seen that the Twaddle document is much more detailed and indeed begs the question as to why I was not provided with the same data.
"If I have information that I think belongs in the public domain then I am quite capable of putting it out in my own name. Personally I think this is grasping at straws as the Council are experiencing quite a backlash from the public over recent decisions."
A few days later an email was sent to Cllr Powell by the Head of the IT department. It stated that they had noticed he had an auto forwarding system set up to direct his Council emails to his private email account. It claimed that under the terms of the "Code of Connection" the Council have to adhere to in order to access data from government and health service organisations this is apparently forbidden.
Councillor Powell says that it seems somewhat of a coincidence that this rule is being invoked now.
"I have my Council emails forwarded to my private account so that I can pick them up on my phone wherever I am, even when I am out of the country as at present. Unlike Officers and Cabinet Members this is not a full time job and I do not have access to my Council computer at all times. I do however like to remain in contact with residents in my ward who may need urgent help."
RCT Welsh Liberal Democrat Campaign Manager Karen Roberts added
"The question has to be asked as to why this has come about now. After all the Code of Connection regulations have been in existence since, I believe, 2009. If, as now claimed, auto forwarding of emails should not be allowed because of it then why is it only now the Council appear to have woken up to the fact? Does this mean the Council has in fact been in breach of the regulations for the past few years? If that is the case then perhaps the Director of IT during that period, who is the current Chief Executive, has some questions to answer.
"I understand there has been some spurious argument put forward about protecting personal information, but all Councillors are bound by a Code of Conduct and the Data Protection Act whatever means of communication are used.
"I have checked with several colleagues in Councils around Wales who say no such rule is imposed there. It is yet another example of RCT's heavy handed approach to stifle the attempts of opposition Councillors to represent their electorate to the full and to hold this administration to account."