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Inside Politics with Michael Wilkinson: Transparency is the way to go

By citizenmike  |  Posted: March 05, 2014

Inside Politics with Michael Wilkinson

Comments (5)

CAMERAS have this week been firmly fixed on the court in which ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius is standing trial over the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

It was a landmark ruling to allow the world’s eyes to watch the court’s proceedings.

In fact, here too in the UK, the public have been able to witness public proceedings in a way they have never been able to before.

Stroud District Council film their meetings and stream them online, opening the door in the most transparent of ways.

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A diktat from the Government’s secretary of state for communities Eric Pickles told local authorities that they must allow the public and press to film meetings if they wish to do so.

Gloucester City Council leader Paul James previously said in November 2013 that he had ‘no problem’ with meetings being filmed.

So it was much to my surprise that leading city councillor Gordon Taylor barred the press and public from taking photos or filming his planning committee meeting on Tuesday night. He warned members of the public and the press (me) at the start of the meeting that filming and photography would not be allowed.

It comes after I filmed some of the last planning meeting in a bid to allow readers to have an inside view of the meeting.

I did this, of course, in light of what Paul James said on the issue last year. Mr James was asked by a member of the public at a meeting if he would allow such activity. At the time he said: “My personal view is that I have not got a problem with it whatsoever. I think much of the meetings would be of little interest to most, but there may be some contributions that would go viral.”

And on Tuesday night Paul told me: “I don’t have any problem with it. It’s polite to ask for permission first though. My only complaint about your last film was I couldn't make out a word of what was said!”

Now let me remind Gordon of the Severn Principles of Public Life, as set out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which were agreed by a full meeting of councillors, including Gordon, back in January. One of them encourages councillors to follow the principle of ‘openness’. It reads: “Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.”

Citizen readers seemingly don’t think Gordon has been transparent on this issue.

Phillip Skill, head of planning for Stroud District Council, said: “Stroud Planning Committee is filmed by our own cameras and broadcast to the world from the website. Transparent.”

Another reader said: “What has Gordon Taylor got to hide? Gordon needs to remember: he works for us.”

A fellow reader responded: “You took the words right out of my mouth. Hope voters remember this blatant disregard for openness at the next election.”

Another added: “Can’t see whats wrong with not allowing it all to be filmed and photos to be taken.”

The people have spoken. Isn't it time to allow filming and photography?

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  • Kay_Powell  |  March 07 2014, 8:50PM

    I'm going to record next month's planning meeting without first getting permission. Let's see what Gordon does about it. You're all invited to come and watch.

    |   -23
  • JemmyWood  |  March 07 2014, 5:41PM

    CitizenMike, I hope you make a point if going to these meetings and recording them now and questioning if you are told you cannot. These despot councillors need to remember they work for us. Council meetings are just that... Council meetings. It is not a super secret spy meeting and it is not classified top secret.

  • Kay_Powell  |  March 06 2014, 6:42PM

    I was the person who got an official, public assurance from Paul James (with the support of Julian Wain and a legal officer) that the public were free to record Gloucester City council meetings. This was on 28th November last and was recorded in the official minutes of the meeting, so they can't go back on their word.

    |   -27
  • NickKeyworth  |  March 06 2014, 2:58PM

    This week's 'Inside Politics' column reveals just how out of touch Gloucester City Council has become. I find it extraordinary that Gloucester City councillors (and the officers who supposedly support them) can be so unaware that the ruling now explicitly allows people to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England. New Government guidance published last year by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles from the Department for Communities and Local Government, states that councillors and council officers can be filmed at council meetings, and corrects misconceptions that the Data Protection Act somehow prohibits this. The Health and Safety Executive has also shot down the suggestion that 'health and safety 'regulations' also bar filming, which Wirral Council used to justify a filming ban last year. Unfortunately, the new rules do not apply over the border in Wales, where a woman was arrested for filming a council meeting in 2011 as they have not (yet) been introduced by the Welsh Government who have devolved responsibility. In this guide Eric Pickles states: "I want to stand up for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state', and that "Councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules." The guide can be found here: https://http://tinyurl.com/pptmrl7 How ironic that whilst people are preparing to rise up to remove authoritarian Governments in certain parts of the world there are still parts of the UK where some would prefer us not to see the process of democracy. So get those cameras rolling, blogs blogging and tweets tweeting people of Gloucester and show us just how the decisions are made behind those closed doors.

  • SteveLoughlin  |  March 06 2014, 10:26AM

    As last months planning meeting was recorded on a mobile phones video without the councilors or person speaking knowing about it......have a discussion with the city council and see where you get to !