UPDATE – 16th April 2013
Eric Pickles weighs in:
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.
“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.”
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
This ‘should we allow filming?‘ issue is now descending into farce…
And now… there are simply no words… they’ve banned filming yet again, but this time on bogus “Health & Safety” grounds…