15th January update. T h r e e times in a month… Will Wirral Council ban the public from filming meetings?

Movie usher sleeping in theater uid 1176312

UPDATE – 16th April 2013

Eric Pickles weighs in:

http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2013/news/pickles-slams-councils-for-obstructing-journalists/

21st November 2012

A very disturbing development arose last night at a Pensions Committee meeting.

Wirral Council is currently entrusted with administering the Merseyside Pension Fund (black hole of over £1 billion).  Part of their remit includes periodically holding and chairing meetings which are attended by Wirral Councillors and members from neighbouring authorities.

At last night’s meeting, Chair Councillor Pat Glasman addressed attendees, bringing up the unusual subject of ‘the filming of council meetings’.  As it happens, this meeting was being filmed by member of the public John Brace, who has provided much valuable coverage and video content to the Wirral community on his blog: http://johnbrace.com/.

Here is the start of the meeting, and included are all the events right up to the moment when Mr Brace was asked to ‘turn off the camera’:

It makes for very interesting viewing / listening, and do I spy some rather ignorant comments from serving councillors?  Comments that could not hope to survive even the most cursory analysis.

Thanks to John Brace for providing the following list of Wirral Councillors who attended this meeting on the night and did their own rather cobbled together, makeshift vote on whether or not to permit filming:

Cllr Patricia Glasman, Chair
Cllr Geoffrey Watt
Cllr Mike Hornby
Cllr Adam Sykes
Cllr Tom Harney
Cllr Adrian Jones
Cllr Sylvia Hodrien
Cllr Harry Smith
Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cllr George Davies
Phil Goodwin (trade union representative)

Until the minutes arrive, we’ve no idea what the breakdown of this vote actually was.  Let’s hope this issue is taken to a full council meeting for a better standard of scrutiny.  Although given Wirral’s track record, and what we’ve heard on the subject so far, this is by no means a given and we could be heading for yet another hugely embarrassing and very public fail.

Some quotes from the meeting:

  • “An advice note has been circulated to elected members this evening by the Director of Law”
  • “Concerns / comments have been made by cabinet members in particular concerning this practice in that a number of cabinet members found it unnerving and disruptive
  • “I object… I object personally to being filmed and recorded”
  • “I think we should all be in favour of openness and transparency, but I’m well aware that this can be regarded as intrusive by some people, not only the… so I rather think that this is a decision that should be made by full cabinet”
  • “My concern is, whilst I agree with you about openness and transparency, I think that some people do not like being filmed and that it has a detrimental effect on openness in that freedom of speech can be affected by being filmed…”
  • “Chair, I’m not against openness, all openness, people coming in and attending and listening and writing down what we’re saying, but if we’re not obliged to have filming, I really do find it objectionable to be filmed.   I don’t think we should allow it.  I move that we do not allow filming tonight”
  • “OK, seconded by Councillor McLachlan … so shall we go for a vote?  Those in favour of asking members of the public to stop filming?  Those against?  I think the motion has been carried, so would you please stop filming?”

24th November 2012

They’ve done it again………

This was the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the 21st November 2012.  As described above, the previous evening, councillors from the ruling party prevented member of the public John Brace from filming a Pensions Committee meeting.  Attendance details here.

The list of flimsy excuses for banning has been added to as follows: “Ostentatiously filming…”; “…disorderly and disruptive…”; “…unsettling to point a camera…”; “…we have no control over the way the film is taken, edited or even produced.”

Chairs of both of these meetings have referred to the letter sent by Bob Neill MP to all local authorities.  This required councils to encourage and allow filming, recommending that tweeting and blogging could be engaged in by not just representatives of the press, but by members of the public / activists.

The Bob Neill MP Letter (Dated 23rd February 2011)

“In the context of photographing or filming meetings, whilst genuine concerns about being filmed should not be dismissed, the nature of the activity being filmed – elected representatives acting in the public sphere – should weigh heavily against personal objections.”

“In short transparency and openness should be the underlying principle behind everything councils do and in this digital age it is right that we modernise our approach to public access, recognising the contribution to transparency and democratic debate that social media and similar tools can make.

I copy this letter to your monitoring officer given their responsibility for advising on your council’s procedures and decision-making arrangements”

I’d say that was pretty conclusive.  And I’m also wondering what on earth the chief legal officer is doing issuing an advice note that flies in the face of not just an edict from Central Government, but the legitimate and compelling public interest of the local people of Wirral.  Does he harbour serious delusions of grandeur?  Is he attempting to overturn parliament?

This is democracy in action, of the people, by the people and for the people – and these jumped up nonentities are on a hiding to nothing – how dare they attempt to ban the public from filming!?

p.s. Like disabled abuse and the commissioning of bogus “independent” investigations, it also transcends party politics – for those who might be assuming I’m some sort of Tory sympathiser.   Haha!!  Perish the thought

UPDATE   14th December 2012

A new petition has been lodged with the council by Mark Harrison entitled “Filming of Council Proceedings” calling for the council to “allow any member of the public who so wishes to record any council, cabinet and committee meeting, by video or audio, unless the public are legally excluded under section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972.”

LINK HERE

UPDATE 18th December 2012

They’ve done it again!!  Wirral Councillors have gone all heavy on a member of the public and stopped him from filming a public meeting for the third time in a month.  Councillors have stuck two fingers up to local members of the public, who were hoping to watch this meeting, and to Bob Neill MP, who sent this letter some time ago.

This time, the occasion was a Planning Committee Meeting (link to John Brace’s website).  The vote was carried by 6 votes to 5.

“Just for this meeting” the chair promised.  Yes.  Thank you.  We’ve had a shed load of empty assurances from your colleagues in the past.  So… until the next time?

This council really are the lowest of the low.  How dare they seek to push out the public and operate in secret?

I and many others had been looking forward to viewing democracy in action at this planning meeting (but this reasonable expectation is becoming something of a tall order with the public servants ensconced and going nowhere fast at abusive Wirral Council).

I think I already know where this will end up.  They will almost certainly follow the route of #QuackCWaC or Cheshire West and Chester Council and take control of the filming, wrap it all up in words like openness / transparency / engagement / inclusion – and we will then be drip-fed their slick version of suitably chosen events, suitably edited – all on their terms.

So until they can wrest back full control of the situation, it’s unofficial off-the-cuff bans, propped up by cobbled together votes.  Welcome to the newly-modernised, free-thinking, post-Klonowski Wirral.  “Where lessons have been learned.” (And How…)

PS. While I’m on the subject of crazed, reactionary lunges to lockdown and censorship, I’m waiting for replies to many emails from legal officer Surjit Tour (Graham Burgess’s nominated ‘single point of contact’), who appears not only to want to shut out the public, but is also becoming very shy on urgent matters of learning disabled abuse and disability discrimination).  Currently, he appears to be a ‘point of contact’ – but in one direction only.  Nothing, or very little, ever comes back.

UPDATE   15th January 2013

Council motion by Councillors Chris Blakeley and Geoffrey Watt; amendment by Councillors Bill Davies and Moira McLaughlin

This ‘should we allow filming?‘ issue is now descending into farce…

link to John Brace’s blog

And now… there are simply no words…  they’ve banned filming yet again, but this time on bogus “Health & Safety” grounds…

another link to John Brace’s blog

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11 Responses to 15th January update. T h r e e times in a month… Will Wirral Council ban the public from filming meetings?

  1. Jonathan Hardaker says:

    Who do these people think they are & what have they got to hide????.
    The houses of parliament are televised so are the house of lords & numerous government committees
    So why has our dear friend Mr Surjit torr the legal eagle dug up some obscure regulations
    to obviate the public seeing as well as hearing what goes on in the public domain.
    These councilors are paid public servants and as such are accountable to us, their paymasters
    to see what is going on & where our money is being spent.
    The last thing I want to see is their faces,It is bad enough listening to them drone on & on but
    we live in a democracy not in some secretive Russian satellite where nobody has any rights
    we live on the wirral & are entitled to see & hear what is going on .
    Surely our local Members of parliament should intervene & have truth,openness brought back
    into the public domain .I await Mr John Braces comments on the above & by the way john I think you are doing a great public service by filming these meetings in the first place.
    I think more especially the editor of the globe to bring this to the crazy situation to the attention of the public of wirral to show what these people are trying to do behind closed doors in Brighton Street..

    • What interests me is if you watch John’s video and listen to the boneheaded ‘justifications’ for not wanting to be filmed, they’re either vague: “it’s objectionable”, or completely unwarranted and ridiculous: “it’s intrusive”.

      When you’re a councillor operating in the public arena, you cannot claim somebody filming in the public interest is being ‘intrusive’. You are there to be watched and to be made accountable for your actions. It goes with the territory. If you do your job, your behaviour’s good, you serve the public interest and represent the interests of your constituents, then there’s somebody here to get that message out there. That’s a positive – and a vote-winner.

      However, if your performance is self-serving, evasive, weak, incompetent, or borders on the offensive… *waves*, then you’ll do your damnedest to prevent this negativity being relayed to the general public, your electorate, who may chance upon it on Youtube or elsewhere. That’s a negative – and a vote-loser.

      Wirral Council are only succeeding in embarrassing themselves here. This blog exists to report on that embarrassment, and to welcome the world in (usually so they can read, digest and learn how out of touch councillors can be, and how NOT to do it). John Brace is providing a great service. Councillors have enjoyed decades of dodging public scrutiny and accountability, whilst putting a gloss on it all around election time. Welcome to the new world. Those days are coming to an end. They know it and they FEAR it.

      Hence, the burning desire to ban it.

      Absolutely nothing within the Cllr Glasman quoted regulations gives scope for councillors to plead ‘intrusiveness’ or ‘objectionable’ filming by the public as reasons for the banning of it. I’ve read them. I’ll provide a link to them soon. Councillors are on a hiding to nothing here.

      We are watching their death throes.

  2. wirralleaks says:

    “Concerns / comments have been made by cabinet members in particular concerning this practice in that a number of cabinet members found it unnerving and disruptive“

    Utter BS.

    Disruptive ? Have they seen the size of video recording devices/ HD phones these days? The public aren’t quite storming the Town Hall with film crews I’ll wager. Do us a favour you oak noggined luddites

    Such sensitive souls. Bad hair day?or more than likely just a paper thin excuse to draw a veil over proceedings

    So no career in Parliament then ?

    Eldritch x

  3. Pingback: Wirral Council. Throwing a concealing blanket over Klonowski and Smith reports? « #FoILed again?

  4. Jonathan hardaker says:

    HI John it beggars belief what these elected councilors think they are, after all they are public servants & are paid for by us the ratepayers after all. Looking at the vote for filming meetings when I added my vote for the response was 100% for & could I suggest to get the public more involved you enlist the globe & the news to front page the subject so that ratepayers know what the score is & perhaps if hundreds or thousands show a positive response’s then these clowns will take notice & renew the filming.
    Perhaps Mr Tour will sit up & take notice & see what is good enough for parliament being televised is certainly good enough for wirral council chamber, just a thought if they don’t want their faces shown perhaps they could have them redacted like on the crime programs as they seem to redact everything else.

    • John Brace says:

      Thanks for your support on this one, I did have a long meeting with Surjit Tour yesterday prior to the Cabinet meeting about this and there were no problems caused in filming the two public meetings yesterday evening. The issue is currently being reviewed and will be discussed at the next Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee on the 23rd January 2013.

      The Echo did get in touch, however at least for now the situation seems to have been resolved.

      As to blurring out their faces, well at the Cabinet meeting last night the only place I was allowed to film from was so far away that it’s hard (even with zoom) to make out their facial expressions.

  5. It could be some way off, but I hope that wider public pressure means we will eventually get the equivalent of what Parliament has – but locally. It’s cheaper to set up and operate now. If we can keep the pressure up, we’ll also have a say in ensuring that the truth isn’t edited away. Something along the lines of Hansard might do the job. Every single utterance recorded near verbatim for posterity.

    The public could then vote on the strength of this AND the usual criteria. And we could ditch the useless hangers on – the obstacles to democracy – the majority of “in it for themselves” wasters, who currently hold sway on Wirral.

    • John Brace says:

      Well what you’re referring to (BBC filming of Parliament and Hansard) are both taxpayer funded. The BBC is funded through the TV licence fee and Hansard is grant funded through the Chancellor.

      A verbatim transcript of proceedings actually is quite labour intensive to do. Yes proceedings can be filmed and a transcript made later (or in theory you could just continuously write shorthand if they speak slow enough) but having done some subtitling of videos it’s quite time consuming to do!

      The question is though, how would it be funded and is there the public demand for it? Would the public be willing to pay for it (whether through taxes or a paid for publication)?

      At the moment, I hate to say it but I don’t currently see it as in my commercial interests to provide transcripts of proceedings except partial transcripts for example subtitles.

  6. John Brace says:

    For whatever reason the promised report on this hasn’t been written and two Licensing, H&S and General Purposes meetings have come and gone. I did get this response from the Health and Safety Executive though and I quote “There are no health and safety regulations which prevent the filming of a public meeting at a local council. The council is clearly hiding behind “health and safety” as a convenient excuse rather than giving the real reasons for its concerns about full openness and transparency.”

    Oh and they put that response on their website too in the “Myth Busters Challenge Panel” section.

  7. John Brace says:

    With a flurry of articles criticising Wirral based on two recent press releases of Mr. Pickles, they’ve backed down and allowed filming at the last Planning Committee. It’s now due to be discussed at the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee on October 2nd. It remains to be seen as to what happens at the next Pensions Committee meeting though.

    I wonder if October 2nd will represent their last chance to try and stop filming before the next wave of redundancies needs to be decided?

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