Northampton leader welcomes moves to further open up council debates across England

Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles
Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles

Moves to open up all public meetings for filming, audio-recording, blogging and tweeting have been welcomed by the leader of Northampton Borough Council.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced this morning he has signed a Parliamentary order allowing press and public to ‘digitally report’ from all public meetings of local government bodies.

The move builds on legislation passed in 2012 which opened up certain council meetings to such live reporting and aims to end ‘active resistance’ among some councils to greater openness - after some authorities even called the police to arrest people who tried to report, tweet or film council meetings, claiming there would be “health and safety” or “reputational risks”.

Mr Pickles, said: “Local democracy needs local journalists and bloggers to report and scrutinise the work of their council, and increasingly, people read their news via digital media.”

He added: “There is now no excuse for any council not to allow these new rights.

“Parliament has changed the law, to allow a robust and healthy local democracy.

“This will change the way people see local government, and allow them to view close up the good work that councillors do.”

The Government has published a ‘plain English guide’ of practical information on how the public can exercise the new rights, to avoid incidents such as that seen in Thanet, Margate, when a man was removed by police for trying to film a council meeting discussing airport expansion.

Wirral Council said filming a planning committee would compromise “health and safety”.

Digital reporting has been permissible at Northampton Borough Council for more than a year, though the authority has yet to introduce full ‘webcasts’ of meetings, used by Northamptonshire County Council.

Leader of the authority, Councillor David Mackintosh (Con, Rectory Farm) said: “We support any moves to encourage more people to take an interest in local democracy and the work of their local council.

“We welcome the new guidance and in fact opened up our meetings in this way a year ago in July 2013.

“Webcasting of meetings is expensive but as technology changes and becomes more affordable, we will continue to look at how we can use these advances to make our meetings even more widely accessible.”