Despite the Government of the day and the Labour Party in Westminster consistently telling local government to stop blocking bloggers and citizen journalists from reporting on public meetings, local councils are continuing to act like Soviets in the former USSR. And last night Ipswich Borough Council refused permission for local blogger Ipswich Spy to film the Executive Committee’s public meeting where the ruling Labour Party make key decisions affecting the town’s residents and businesses.
Ipswich now joins the ranks of councils in Carmarthenshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in continuing to ignore the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, call for local authorities to allow the recording and reporting on all public meetings.
The Conservative-led Government has had enough of councils acting like tinpot dictators when it comes to promoting transparent democracy and have decided to legislate to force local authorities like Ipswich Borough Council to open their public meetings to reporting by all electronic communication means: blogs, Twitter, sound recording and filming.
The Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which has now completed all its stages in the House of Commons and House of Lords, will include a law to enshrine a blogger’s – or any member of the public for that matter – right to tweet, sound record and film the proceedings in town halls in England. The Bill will receive Royal Assent early next year.
As Ipswich Spy pointed out in their post yesterday, the Executive Committee of Ipswich Borough Council is the power committee: all key decisions are made here. Please do not be fooled that the council meetings at the Town Hall have any real significance – they are mainly a show council meeting to go through the motions of democracy. The Labour leadership ensure anything of real importance, such as spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money on a new ICT platform and council housing contracts, are taken at the Executive Committee within a secure office meeting room – as was the case last night.
Grafton House mandarins spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a way to stop Ipswich Spy from filming key decision making at the Executive Committee. Soon they will have to grant permission swiftly.
Ipswich Spy contacted Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis MP to inform him of Ipswich Borough Council’s decision last night to refuse permission to film a public meeting. Mr Lewis responded by saying: “We finished the third reading of the new Bill today so it will soon be law. Councils should be encouraging openness. Good ones do.”