In December last year, the Tory administration at West Lancashire borough council tried to stop me recording and tweeting a council meeting at which they were discussing an expensive council-buildings refurbishment.
Town hall refurbishments are controversial at the moment, as you can imagine. People do not think councils should be spending money on their own digs while they’re telling everybody else to put up with service cuts, etc. Proposed town hall refurbishments generate plenty of heated chat.
Anyway – this week, at a full council meeting, West Lancs council will hear a report called “Recording council, cabinet and committee meetings and use of mobile phones and other social media devices.” This report recommends that the council bans the informal recording of meetings unless a formal request to record is made and the meeting in question agrees.
Getting back to me – the report says that this all came about because:
…” at a meeting of the Council on 15 December 2010, an incident occurred when a member of the public at the back of the council chamber was holding her mobile phone up in the air, which led several councillors to raise the issue with the chief executive as to whether she was recording the meeting. As the smooth running of the meeting was affected, the chief executive asked her to refrain from texting, phoning or recording, but it was agreed to report back on these issues.”
The buggers. I’d sue their rightwing butts off, except that such an action would waste public time and money. I, at least, have standards. For the record (ho ho), I waved nothing in the air at that meeting. It was a council meeting, not a Bieber gig. I had no reason to hold my phone up in the air – not least because I didn’t use my phone to record the meeting.
The truth is that the smooth running of the meeting was affected by the opposition’s anger at the council’s plan to refurbish council buildings while the rest of the world endures austerity. Now, these appalling people want to add a rule to the council constitution that will make publicising service cuts even harder. Can’t understand the paranoia, myself – either at West Lancs, or at other councils that take this closed-doors approach. It’s not like recordings would reflect a different reality from meeting minutes, or anything awful like that. Councillors are entirely trustworthy, always. Everything’s completely above board.
I particularly liked this line in the report: “the constitution currently does not permit the recording of meetings and the ability to do this is in the gift of the council.” Says it all, really. Recording and sharing council business and decisions with other members of the public is not a right, but a “gift” that the council may or may not favour you with. Bollocks to that. Big Society indeed.