Eric Pickles gets it right

Not quite what Liberal Democrats always says about Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, but his pronouncement this week about access to local government meetings was spot on.

His department’s press release says,

Councils should open up their public meetings to local news ‘bloggers’ and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said today.

To ensure all parts of the modern-day media are able to scrutinise Local Government, Mr Pickles believes councils should also open up public meetings to the ‘citizen journalist’ as well as the mainstream media, especially as important budget decisions are being made.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill has written to all councils urging greater openness and calling on them to adopt a modern day approach so that credible community or ‘hyper-local’ bloggers and online broadcasters get the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have.

The letter sent today reminds councils that local authority meetings are already open to the general public, which raises concerns about why in some cases bloggers and press have been barred.

For example Tameside Council has accredited professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter. The decision means local bloggers, the public and even councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not considered members of the press.

The point at which he praises Mrs Thatcher for opening up council meetings is also the point where my agreement wears a bit thinner (given the excellent campaigning many Liberals, SDP and Liberal Democrat councillors have done to make local government more open, and the examples many have set in changing rules on their own councils, not to mention the Liberal Government’s Local Authorities (Admission of Press) Act of 1908) … but on the basic point he’s spot on.

Let’s hope too it helps put an end to absurd cases such as that of Green councillor Jason Kitcat who faced disciplinary action for putting footage of council meetings on YouTube.

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10 Comments

  • Eric Pickles gets it right….

    My first thought was the old joke that statistically if you put enough monkeys in a room with typewriters eventually you get Shakespeare !

    On the point though he is correct, Councils do need to be open about their decision making and allow wider access than currently on offer….

    I wouldn’t expect to see too many more threads with the same headline, just like the odds on the Monkeys doing twice are considerably longer.

  • Right in sentiment, but why do we have to endure a continual stream of ‘guidance’ letters from CLG, often sent out Friday afternoon? Localism means letting councils work through issues like this for themselves! Perhaps local authorities should start sending the government guidance letters every Friday?

  • Martin Warne 24th Feb '11 - 1:16pm

    This will make sod all difference in Newham, where council meetings take 10 minutes or less – they actually managed to do the whole agenda in just 7 minutes in July, but they’ve slowed down a bit since!

    The reason is that the executive mayor and all 60 councillors are from the same party, so any debate takes place behind closed doors in Labour group meetings.

    If Pickles wants to open up council proceedings to greater scrutiny he should start by making councils more diverse, so real debate takes place in public. Let’s have PR for local elections.

  • Tony Greaves 24th Feb '11 - 5:41pm

    It was indeed Margaret Thatcher who as a young(ish) MP brought in a Bill (I think a Private Member’s Bill??) to open up all local authority committees to press and public.

    Executive arrangements have done away with a lot of that since decisions are made in quite different ways.

    I don’t think it’s possible to allow the public in to a council or committee meeting but not the press.

    If anyone (public) was twittering away at a Pendle meeting I don’t think anyone would notice.

    Tony Greaves

  • David Evans 24th Feb '11 - 7:16pm

    I think Tony may be wrong here. In many councils, once public questions are over, if any member of the public remained they would stand out like a sore thumb!

  • patricia roche 28th Feb '11 - 10:39am

    perhaps we should video some of the cabinet meetings and put them on u tube then we can see what the politicians really think about us

  • Peter Chegwyn 2nd Mar '11 - 9:13am

    Conservative-run Hampshire County Council threw BBC TV out of their annual budget meeting last week and pasted notices on the doors of the Council Chamber saying cameras were not allowed. So much for Pickles telling Tory Councils to be more open!

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