Campaigners are claiming victory in their bid to allow the recording of East Riding Council meetings in Beverley after the secretary of state for local government discussed in parliament plans to make the requirement law.
The Justice for Bridlington campaign, backed by the Tax Payers’ Alliance had put together a petition to call for meetings to be recorded by the council - and for bloggers and members of the public to use recording devices at meetings.
Labour councillor Josh Newlove, seconded by Bridlington South councillor Shelagh Finlay, then tabled two motions asking the council to consider - which were voted down at a full council meeting held at County Hall last month.
But Eric Pickles, Local Government Secretary on Monday put a new law before Parliament to give the press and public new rights to film and report council meetings.
Mr Pickles said: “An independent local press and robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy. We have given councils more power, but local people need to be able to hold their councils to account. We are taking action against town hall Pravdas which are undermining the independent free press, but I want to do more to help the new cadre of hyper-local journalists and bloggers.
“I asked for councils to open their doors, but some have slammed theirs shut, calling in the police to arrest bloggers and clinging to old-fashioned standing orders.
“Councillors should not be shy about the good work that they do. This new right will be the key to helping bloggers and tweeters as well as journalists to unlocking the mysteries of local government and making it more transparent for all.”
The legal changes to be sent to Parliament by Mr Pickles hope to enshrine in the law the right of residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England.
They will be part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which was debated by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, having completed its Lords stages.
Thomas Morris, spokesperson for Justice for Bridlington which had argued that meetings held about Bridlington’s future 30 miles away in Beverley was undermining local democracy, said: “We are delighted that thanks to our campaign, supporters and the report on council transparency from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Government is now legislating to give residents the right to record, blog, and tweet at council meetings.
“It is however very sad and disappointing that East Riding of Yorkshire Council has been forced into this and did not voluntarily change its policy when it had the opportunity at the last Full Council meeting.
“There is a democratic deficit at County Hall, and our campaign for more openness and transparency continues, as does our quest to hold those responsible for wasting millions of pounds of our money on this botched regeneration project.”
A recent report from the Tax Payers’ Alliance revealed that councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire - including East Riding - did not allow meetings to be recorded. Andrew Allison, of the group, said that he did not want to see great amounts of tax payers’ money used to fund a recording scheme - but pointed to a Freedom of Information Request to Leeds Council which revealed that the authority pay £16,000 a year to broadcast their meetings online.
Bridlington South Councillor Chad Chadwick said: “If Mr Pickles makes a change to the law, then of course the council will obey it and allow meetings to be recorded by people that come along.
“However, due to the costs involved, I do not think that the council recording its meetings is a practical idea. My own opinion is - who would want to watch it? If people are interested then they will find the time to come along. I understand the pressures, but when I first became involved in attending council meetings I arranged time off work to ensure I could make it along.
“I have seen reports that say it only costs £16,000 to run a broadcast, but the council has looked into the costs of setting something like this up and we have heard amounts anywhere from £100,000 to £200,000.
“Budgets are very tight and that money would need to be found somewhere. We would then have to make the decision whether we spent that money on recording meetings, or on things like children’s services or adult services.”
A spokesperson for East Riding Council confirmed that they had no plans to change their recording policy as yet, but would obey any changes in the law.