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> Pickles opens public meetings to filming, A special notice to Councillors!
Ruwan Uduwerage-...
post Aug 13 2014, 11:31 AM
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Dear Colleagues,

www.localgov.co.uk reported on the 6th August this revelatory news which some Councillors at Parish, Town and District levels may needs to accept is beyond 'Good Practice' that the public have a 'Right' to hear and see what is happening within public meetings.

"A new law allowing the public to film, record and tweet from council meetings will support 'healthy local democracy', according to communities secretary Eric Pickles.

A Parliamentary order signed by Pickles opens the doors of public meetings to broadcasters, national and local press, bloggers and the wider public.

Recent incidents have seen English local authorities calling for police to arrest individuals caught trying to report, tweet or film council meetings. Councillors have even been ejected from meetings for trying to record discussions surrounding airport expansion.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the new law would aim to 'end active resistance amongst some councils to greater openness'.

Pickles added: '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.

'The new "right to report" goes hand in hand with our work to stop unfair state competition from municipal newspapers - together defending the independent free press.

'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.'

Welcoming the news, Isle of Wight Council said it considered the Government's recognition of digital and social media 'a step forward'.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'Democracy cannot live behind closed doors, so today is a significant step forward in opening up local government to public scrutiny.'"

Whatever next, perhaps the public will be afforded the opportunity to actually pose questions directly to Councils without the question having to be previously scrutinised by Officers and Members? Obviously meetings need structures in order that they flow, but should the public have to be constrained by internal public sector protocols? Personally I think not.

Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

Newbury Town Council - Councillor for Victoria Ward
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Andy Capp
post Aug 13 2014, 12:28 PM
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I've always been sceptical of the apparent liberal use of commercial confidentiality status that is often placed on meetings.
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GMR
post Aug 13 2014, 04:29 PM
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I think that is excellent news. Not to report, film or tweet such meetings leads to suspicion. After all isn't governments, councils there to benefit and serve the people? Therefore the people should be part of the processes.

Confidentiality clauses are there to keep the public away from dishonesty.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 13 2014, 06:55 PM
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I would imagine there are genuine cases for confidentiality agreements (NDAs are common in business), but I am suspicious that they are sometimes used to hide things that aught not to be.
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Simon Kirby
post Aug 13 2014, 06:57 PM
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QUOTE (Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera @ Aug 13 2014, 12:31 PM) *
Whatever next, perhaps the public will be afforded the opportunity to actually pose questions directly to Councils without the question having to be previously scrutinised by Officers and Members? Obviously meetings need structures in order that they flow, but should the public have to be constrained by internal public sector protocols? Personally I think not.

I agree completely, but why would I want to invite the public humiliation of a designation as a Vexatious Complainant for asking something challenging? I already have the right to Freedom of Expression and it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with that right, and yet I have no practical way of enforcing that right against a tyranical local authority.

What Pickles says is right to a point, but what is the Newbury parishioner to do with this new-won right to film council meeting? This the the secret agreement that the Council demanded I sign if I was to be allowed to keep my plot:

QUOTE (Newbury Town Council)
Simon Kirby agrees to: Cease to make postings and pronouncements in public places (including in particular notice boards and e-forums) that are critical of or negative towards Newbury Town Council, its Members, Employees, Contractors, Customers, Tenants, and other associates, without prior discussion with the Chief Executive Officer of Newbury Town Council.


So I have the right to film footage, but as an allotmenteer if I didn't want to be evicted I couldn't post that footage without first discussing any negative commentry with the town clerk, and you can imagine that a forum thread would be somewhat tedious if a meeting with the town clerk had to be scheduled to discuss every critical comment.

I've been saying this here for four years now: The Town Council has many problems, and they all come down to a lack of openness and accountability. Rights are all well and good, but if you don't have a wealthy special-interest organisation behind you for support then they're worthless at protecting you from victimisation.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 13 2014, 07:17 PM
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QUOTE (Newbury Town Council)
Simon Kirby agrees to: Cease to make postings and pronouncements in public places (including in particular notice boards and e-forums) that are critical of or negative towards Newbury Town Council, its Members, Employees, Contractors, Customers, Tenants, and other associates, without prior discussion with the Chief Executive Officer of Newbury Town Council.

I'd have signed it. It says 'prior discussion'. It doesn't say approval. I'd email the said person, established a response, then fired away. tongue.gif
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Simon Kirby
post Aug 13 2014, 10:12 PM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Aug 13 2014, 08:17 PM) *
I'd have signed it. It says 'prior discussion'. It doesn't say approval. I'd email the said person, established a response, then fired away. tongue.gif

Yes, I could have saved my allotment if I'd have signed the gagging agreement, and could have saved myself a lot more hassle if I'd not have asserted my consumer rights, and more still if I'd not have started the allotment society, but I have a right to all of those things, and it would rankle with me to give up a civil right just because life would be easier.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 13 2014, 10:25 PM
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QUOTE (Simon Kirby @ Aug 13 2014, 11:12 PM) *
Yes, I could have saved my allotment if I'd have signed the gagging agreement, and could have saved myself a lot more hassle if I'd not have asserted my consumer rights, and more still if I'd not have started the allotment society, but I have a right to all of those things, and it would rankle with me to give up a civil right just because life would be easier.

That isn't what I meant. The clause is poorly written (as is customary it seems). It doesn't say you mustn't slag 'em off; just talk to the CEO first.
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Simon Kirby
post Aug 13 2014, 10:47 PM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Aug 13 2014, 11:25 PM) *
That isn't what I meant. The clause is poorly written (as is customary it seems). It doesn't say you mustn't slag 'em off; just talk to the CEO first.

I was evicted because I'd asserted a consumer right to not have unfair contract terms. Trading Standards upheld my complaint and the Council had to amend the tenancy agreement, but the Council still tried to enforce and unenforceable forfeiture for much of 2010 and declared me a Vexatious Complainant for saying so publicly, and when the embarrassment of not being able to enforce the forfeiture finally became too much for the Council in 2011 they withdrew the unenforceable forfeiture and gave me a Notice to Quit instead just to victimise me some more, and then passed a Resolution to allow them never to give me another allotment ever again, and they published a public statement saying how they were doing all that because it was cheaper on the tax-payer than enforcing the forfeiture, even though it turned out to cost around £10k when they had no grounds to forfeit my tenancy in the first place. Now all they actually needed to do was back in 2010 say, "yeah, sorry, looks like you were right about the unfair terms thing, obvious really when you think about it, dont know why we made such a fuss about giving 12 months notice of a rent increase."

I don't think with that background it would have been sensible to sign that dubious agreement trusting that the Council would respect your interpretation of what "prior discussion with the Chief Executive Officer" looked like, because I would say that "prior discussion" would include at least one reply from the clerk and if that took two weeks or more it would make it practically impossible to engage in any kind of contemporaneous forum.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 14 2014, 08:27 AM
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QUOTE (Simon Kirby @ Aug 13 2014, 11:47 PM) *
I don't think with that background it would have been sensible to sign that dubious agreement trusting that the Council would respect your interpretation of what "prior discussion with the Chief Executive Officer" looked like, because I would say that "prior discussion" would include at least one reply from the clerk and if that took two weeks or more it would make it practically impossible to engage in any kind of contemporaneous forum.

I realise that, but it was only an agreement; you were no better off not signing it. Who were the CEO and the head of the council at the time?
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Simon Kirby
post Aug 14 2014, 08:48 AM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Aug 14 2014, 09:27 AM) *
I realise that, but it was only an agreement; you were no better off not signing it.

It wasn't particularly about being better off, it was a question of whether it was an adequate resolution to the underlying problems that the complaint was about and whether it would be a tolerable compromise. It was neither. The Council were wrong to have persisted with the forfeiture after Trading Standards made them change the tenancy agreement, and they were wrong to victimise me further with a notice to quit after they eventually withdrew the forfeiture, and it was the council's failure to address this victimisation that caused the subsequent chaotic dispute. Accepting an agreement that gave a tyranical council further leverage over me was not an answer.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 14 2014, 09:34 AM
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QUOTE (Simon Kirby @ Aug 14 2014, 09:48 AM) *
It wasn't particularly about being better off, it was a question of whether it was an adequate resolution to the underlying problems that the complaint was about and whether it would be a tolerable compromise. It was neither. The Council were wrong to have persisted with the forfeiture after Trading Standards made them change the tenancy agreement, and they were wrong to victimise me further with a notice to quit after they eventually withdrew the forfeiture, and it was the council's failure to address this victimisation that caused the subsequent chaotic dispute. Accepting an agreement that gave a tyranical council further leverage over me was not an answer.

Who were the CEO and the head of the council at the time? Was this done with the approval of the council members?
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Simon Kirby
post Aug 14 2014, 10:13 AM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Aug 14 2014, 10:34 AM) *
Who were the CEO and the head of the council at the time? Was this done with the approval of the council members?

I wouldn't want to get into personal accountabiliteis here, and I don't know who actually took the decisions, whether they were made by councillors or officers.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 14 2014, 10:29 AM
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QUOTE (Simon Kirby @ Aug 14 2014, 11:13 AM) *
I wouldn't want to get into personal accountabilities here, and I don't know who actually took the decisions, whether they were made by councillors or officers.

These are public bodies and who says it is personal? I just want to know the people I'm voting for. When did you first complain about the allotment contract and when were you evicted?
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Exhausted
post Aug 14 2014, 11:29 AM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Aug 14 2014, 10:34 AM) *
Who were the CEO and the head of the council at the time? Was this done with the approval of the council members?


That would be CEO Graham Hunt, he who gave away the rent for the Christmas sheds in Victoria park without permission from the council. Approval of council members, probably a nudge nudge as they were the one who were p!!ssed off. Leader of the council, I think J.SH although Simon might confirm that.

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On the edge
post Aug 14 2014, 11:59 AM
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It's a collective responsibility, then are all culpable unless they abstained formally. Yes, someone may well have made a decision and it might well have been for personal reasons, but as in all corporate matters, it becomes a corporate decision. Silence in this is agreement.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 14 2014, 02:24 PM
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I presume it is the same CEO who avoided a potentially embarrassing time in court as a defendant (or what ever the correct term is) due to the complaint being lodged against him being too late? So the letter Simon was asked to sign would have been with the approval of either the CEO and the the head of the council and its members, or both?
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Andy Capp
post Aug 14 2014, 02:24 PM
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I'm at it now. rolleyes.gif
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Simon Kirby
post Aug 14 2014, 09:55 PM
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The issue raised by the OP is the freedom to criticise the state. Some councils have tried to have people arrested for filming council meetings, and what Pickles has introduced is helpful I guess, but it's one more law on an already bloated statute book and quite frankly it's bonkers that it took a change in the law to be able to film in a councl meeting - how in the name of the Great Prophet Zarquon was filming in a council meeting ever not completely fine? What does it say about the state of our local democracy and free society that, but for the new law, filming in a council meeting could get you arrested?

Consider the recently drafted Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expression. It's a challenging principle, that we should protect the freedom of thought and expression even for those whose thoughts and expressions are most hateful to us. Take this section:

QUOTE
There is no right not to be offended, or not to hear contrary opinions. Respect for people’s freedom of belief does not imply any duty or requirement to respect those beliefs. The expression of opposition to any beliefs, including in the form of satire, ridicule or condemnation in all media and forms is vital to critical discourse and any restraint that is exercised in this expression must be in accordance of article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The best response to the expression of a view we disagree with is to reply to it. Violence and censorship are never legitimate responses. All laws that criminalise language on grounds of ‘blasphemy’ or of offence to beliefs and values impede human freedom and should be abolished.


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Andy Capp
post Aug 14 2014, 11:57 PM
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Removed for reasons of irrelevance.
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