Argyll and Bute Council backs down on school dinners blog ban

The leader of Argyll and Bute Council has reversed the decision to ban a 9 year old schoolgirl from taking photographs of her school dinners and blogging about them. Roddy McCuish did so live on Radio 4’s The World at One, bringing to an end a morning of social media frenzy which had seen the subject have 3 of highest trending topics on Twitter in the UK.

In my earlier post, I covered the background and Argyll and Bute’s initial statement on the matter. It seemed strange for the Council to say it was taking action against “unwarranted attacks” on their school meals service when the average mark Martha had given her meals was 7.59 out of 10.

It’s good to see that common sense has prevailed in this case. It’s the right decision. It is worth observing, however, that it appears to be an interesting example of the SNP chain of command in action. While Liberal Democrat councillors would never dream of taking orders from parliamentarians or ministers, it’s common for SNP councillors to be dictated to from above.  Liberal Democrat councillors who had worked in coalition with them told me that their deference to their MSPs could be at best irritating. We know that Mike Russell, the local SNP MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Education called the decision “daft” last night and eventually his wish prevailed.

The Communications Department at Argyll and Bute Council has had a troubled few months. Edinburgh Eye recounts how the communications officer had told a social media gathering how she created social media accounts in false names to follow critics of the Council. In April, two other officers were suspended, and  subsequently resigned after messages joking about other council officials were intercepted on the Council’s messaging system. With that sort of atmosphere in the Department, it’s hardly surprising that they have not produced their best work.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie  earlier slammed Argyll and Bute’s actions as a “dog’s dinner” and said he was delighted

by Martha’s enterprising approach to highlighting an age-old problem, and encourage the council to work with her to create healthy and tasty school dinners.

By reviewing good dinners as well as bad Martha was being fair, it’s a shame that the Council haven’t followed her example.

Martha clearly has a bright future ahead of her. We should be seeking to reward her courage, not ban it.

After the ban was reversed, he suggested Martha could help train council officials across Scotland in blogging and social media skills.

Meanwhile, Martha herself continues to rake in funds for the charity Mary’s Meals. Over 2000 children in Africa will now benefit from meals for a school year because of this furore. Who says the internet is a waste of time?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Although a social media generated storm, this is really a good news story both for the principle of transparency and free speech and for the fact donations are pouring in on the website for a very worthwhile cause (including from lots of people outside the UK).

    Perhaps the council should have issued this statement: “We realised that a ridiculous over-reaction was the way to get everyone interested in this excellent blog and raising money for such a good cause. We are grateful for the many messages of abuse about our ban and the vigilance of social media leading to Martha’s target of raising £7,000 pounds has been smashed. Thanks to our ban, thousands more children in the third world will have food to eat and be able to attend school.”

  • Nigel Ashton 15th Jun '12 - 4:26pm

    Somehow I don’t think that Argyll & Bute Council’s communications staff have heard of the Streisand effect.

  • My 9 year old daughter was very impressed with the blog (although as a fussy eater she didn’t see anything she would like to eat!), and decided to donate £2 to Martha’s chosen charity, which looks at though it might have raised £50k by the end of the evening. Full marks to Martha, and her dad.

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