How open are council meetings?

DCLG have today announced that residents, bloggers, tweeters, community activists and hyperlocal sites should have the same access and facilities to council meetings as traditional newspaper journalists. This is important because it means Government recognises the valuable contribute the wider community makes to accountability in local government.

It’s a very timely announcement. For a while now I’ve been interested in the openness of council meetings. Namely, whether citizens, media or councillors are permitted to live tweet/blog, record audio of or film public meetings.

I have secured permission to film the meetings of my local council meetings in Lichfield and heard stories of others being forced to leave or even arrested for attempting to do the same.

These are just a few examples of the current state of play so an effort to document which councils allow their meetings to be opened up I created Open Council Meetings, a simple project to track which councils allow tweeting, recording and filming of meetings.

My hope is that the project can help bring together localgov enthusiasts, hyperlocal bloggers and active citizens to monitor the situation and put pressure on councils to open up.

 

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Dave Briggs

I'm Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing Councils.

3 thoughts on “How open are council meetings?”

  1. On this same topic I have left this comment on the LGiU blog:

    The problem in Newham, where I live, is that there’s no point in going to council meetings because there’s no debate or discussion. Meetings last as little as 10 minutes as business is nodded through.

    The reason for this is that we have a one-party state – all 60 councillors plus the elected mayor – come from the same party. Such discussion as does take place happens in Labour group meetings, which are private.
    The council’s own website used to say that “at these meetings the Council makes major decisions, such as deciding the council tax and budget and policy framework documents. It is the real focus for the whole Council to meet and debate major issues and to ask questions of the Mayor.” Interestingly I notice that the current version of the site now omits the last sentence!

    Unless Mr Pickles can force councillors to have their group meetings in public (highly unlikely!) this move means nothing for Newham.

    1. Perhaps you can now make sure there is a permanent record of the lack of debate and discussion amongst councillors in your area. Showing this to the electorate might prompt them to ask questions of their representatives where they currently don’t have the ammunition to do so.

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