Pickles: Go Forth And Scrutinise
Lights, Camera, Action! Councils ‘Pickled’
Once again, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is in the news, reiterating his loud and clear announcement of June this year, regarding the right of the public to film, record, ‘live-stream’ and Tweet of Council Meetings:
- “In June this year, Mr Pickles published guidance to councils asking them to open up to overt filming and social media, but since then several councils are still continuing to prevent reporting.”
The message does not seem to have been received here in the Borough of Scarborough – at Parish, Town and Borough Council levels.
In an email dated 11th September 2013, Mrs Jools MARLEY, Clerk to the Newby & Scalby Parish Council, had this to say:
Council’s standing orders specifically state “Photographing, recording, broadcasting or transmitting the proceedings of a meeting by any means is not permitted without the Council’s consent”.
The Minutes of the Full Council Meeting of Whitby Town (Parish) Council held on 2nd July 2013 include:
098/13 FILMING RECORDING OF MEETINGS BY AN IMPARTIAL BODY
RESOLVED that Whitby Town Council do not allow the filming of any meetings of the Council and its committees due to cost, security and copyright issues within this building.
As recently as 17th October 2013, Lisa DIXON, Scarborough Borough Council’s Director of Democratic and Legal Services told Yorkshire Coast Radio:
” We don’t currently allow filming or voice recording at council meetings but this is currently under review and we are exploring how we can make our meetings more widely accessible in the future.”
But a member of the public here in the Borough has asked Eric PICKLES for clarification on the matter of Councils interpreting the legislation in such a way as to prevent the public from exercising the right the Secretary of State has insisted is theirs – in the interests of openness, transparency and accountability.
The Department for Communities & Local Government has now provided the following response, actively encouraging the public to exercise its right to use available technology to ensure that councils act openly and transparently. Here is the full text of the letter:
“Thank you for your email of 11 October addressed to the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles regarding Newby & Scalby Parish Council. I have been asked to reply to this as I work in the team which has policy responsibility for local democracy issues.
To answer your questions, the law on recording council proceedings can be found in section 1(7) of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960. The Act provides for councils to permit the taking of photographs of any proceedings, or the use of any means to enable persons not present to see or hear any proceedings (whether at the time or later), or the making of any oral report on any proceedings as they take place, but does not require a council to give permission. However, the Government wishes to encourage all town and parish councils to maximise transparency and openness wherever possible as media reports about the public or press being denied access to meetings or being prevented from filming, recording or reporting live by tweeting about meetings can only weaken local people’s confidence in local democracy and their elected representatives. I would therefore encourage you to ask your parish council to reconsider its position and allow citizens to use electronic devices to report on proceedings.
With regards to the declaration of interest, please see below a link to the Government Guidance, ‘Openness and Transparency on Personal Interests: a guide for councillors’ which you may find helpful.
The law on this issue can be found in The Localism Act 2011 particularly chapter 7.
I am sure you will appreciate that local authorities act independently of central government. Parish councils are accountable for their actions to their electorate, the auditors and ultimately the courts. I would encourage you to continue to attend meetings, ask questions and hold your parish council to account so that they act consistently and are open and transparent.
Department for Communities & Local Government
Progress, however incremental, is progress – even if local authorities in the Borough of Scarborough have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the age of democracy.