Councils in the region have agreed to allow the public to film their meetings after the Government ordered local authorities to improve access to voters.
A survey by The Northern Echo revealed that councils across the North-East and North Yorkshire have approved the filming of committee meetings.
Members of the public are also usually allowed to post updates on meetings on social networking sites from council chambers.
Earlier this year, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles published a guide for people explaining how they could attend and report on their local council meetings.
The guidance explicitly stated that councils should permit the public to film council meetings.
Despite councils elsewhere in the country still refusing to allow filming, local authorities in this region appear to be complying with the guide.
Several councils have allowed filming for several months while others are currently in the process of changing their procedures to comply with the Government guidance.
Durham County Council agreed in July on a protocol for members of the public wishing to record meetings.
These regulations came into force on August 6.
Although it did not have a specific policy on the issue, Darlington Borough Council said it also allowed its meetings to be filmed.
Its guidance on the issue states: “The council is committed to being open and transparent in the way it conducts its decision making.
“Filming, recording and photography at council meetings will therefore be allowed subject to certain restrictions and conditions.”
A draft protocol regarding this issue will be considered by Stockton Council’s cabinet on September 4 and by full council on September 17.
Sunderland City Council also allows its meetings to be videoed.
“Dozens of meetings open to the public are held every year and the city council has always welcomed people to them,” said leader councillor Paul Watson.
Several councils noted that filming was allowed, but the chair of the meeting must be notified in advance.
Authorities also asked for filming to be done overtly, rather than done in secret, and not in a way that was disruptive.
Source – Northern Echo, 20 Aug 2014
A councillor has called for restrictions on decisions taken under delegated powers by Berwick Town Council.
Councillor Georgina Hill feels it is an important pillar in her drive for the council to be more open and transparent in its business.
Speaking at full council, she said: “This council will not be able to move forward in a positive way until there is a recognition that mistakes have been made in the past and things need to change.
“We need to be more open and transparent in everything we do. We need more robust systems and safeguards in place. And we need to move decisively away from a culture where all the meaningful discussions take place by a select few in the town council office and then are presented in such a way as to go through “on the nod” at council meetings, where the devil and the lack of detail is contained well within council documents.
“Above all else, we need more scrutiny and accountability especially when it comes to spending public money.”
She was particularly concerned at the ‘unlawful’ decision of the staffing sub-committee to ratify the spending of £1,500 public money to threaten legal action over her blog.
“It is entirely inappropriate for these members, who are personally embarrassed by my revelations on Facebook, to use public money to advance their own interests,” she said.
However, her proposal that the town council does not authorise spending of council funds on external solicitors where expenditure exceeds £250, without the express authority of the finance committee, was defeated. Instead, an amendment for the matter to go the finance strategy group was carried.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 01 Aug 2014
A Labour councillor has been suspended after she joined protesters opposing council cuts.
Councillor Rosalind Copeland (Southwick) was hit with a three-month suspension by Sunderland’s Labour Group for going against the orders of party whips.
The ban means she will not be able to take part in the group’s meetings or sit with Labour members at full council meetings.
Members voted to take action against Coun Copeland at a party meeting on Monday.
It appears the row was ignited after the grandmother-of-two joined placard-carrying protestors in the city centre, ahead of an annual budget-setting meeting last month.
A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors before the meeting, during which £35million of cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.
Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service they said will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets.
Coun Copeland attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting and supported the demonstrators.
Pointing out that she was not there to criticise the council, but to defend what it is legally bound to do in the face of Government cuts, she said: “I am here to defend my council and the decision my council will have to make – the agony we are facing as councillors.
“As council members, we are having to do things we don’t want to do. The Coalition is pilfering the working class. It is not this Labour group at fault.”
Supporters have given their backing to the 65-year-old, who was elected in May 2008.
Anti-cuts protestor Gary Duncan set up the online petition and a Facebook page calling for the suspension to be lifted.
He said: “As a Sunderland resident and Labour voter who actively opposes cuts to public services, I am absolutely disgusted by this suspension.
“How can the leaders of Sunderland’s Labour Party justify punishing one of their own councillors for fighting the cuts?”
> Labour voter ? So he’s not the same Gary Duncan who, if I remember correctly, stood as a Respect candidate then ?
Though he probably is the Gary Duncan who last year got into bother with Sunderland Peoples Assembly (presumably a different entity from North East People’s Assembly)
A Labour Party insider, who did not want to be named, said: “Coun Copeland signed a letter in 2011 to say she would not talk to the press, unless it was ‘on message’.
“But if you started slinging people out of the Labour Party for opposing Tory cuts, there would be nobody left. She is a good local councillor.”
A spokesman for Labour Party North confirmed Coun Copeland had been suspended from the Labour Group for three months for going against the party whip.
Council leader Paul Watson said: “There is an internal Labour Group enquiry live at the present moment. It is against party rules to discuss the situation until we have an outcome and the process is fully concluded.”
Source – Sunderland Echo 12 April 2014