Correction: Unfortunately we published Cllr. Frow’s vote wrong when this was first published. Cllr. Frow did not abstain. Perhaps we need to video record the meetings instead, then we can avoid this problem in the future?
Well we tried, and unfortunately failed to get Whitwell Parish Council meetings recorded. We offered up several options:
- Do nothing
- We record them and provide them to the council, with a legally binding agreement on how we will use the recordings. You can see a copy of the draft agreement, Clause 6 is the one of main interest.
- The parish council records them and makes them available in whole to the public. (We even worked out where in the budget the money could be saved from to pay for it!)
A proposal was formulated around option 2 and formally voted upon, “that Whitwell Parish Council precure the equipment to record the meetings themselves and make them available to the public in full.”
The votes were as follows:
- Cllr. J Burdett – Against
- Cllr. S Ellis – Against
- Cllr. S Frow – Against
- Cllr. J Raspin – Against
- Cllr. S Maiden – For
- Cllr. V Mills – For
- Cllr. T Munro – Against
- Cllr. G Webster – For
Cllr. Kerr was also in favour of the audio recording of meetings, but as he is one of our elected district councillors and not a parish councillor he was unable to vote on the matter.
Amongst the points and concerns raised were:
- That some members of the council and public are not very articulate and would not want to make themselves look foolish as the recording would be a permanent record once released to the public.
- Neither are some members of the public, myself included as I stumbled a bit through my arguments.
- That if parishioners wished to engage with the council and the meetings then they are free to attend the public meetings and that councillors have their phone numbers & email addresses on the parish council website if they want to discuss an issue with them.
- Presumably this means then that because there is a public gallery in the House of Commons that BBC Parliament should be scrapped? We’re not talking the same level of decision making of course – but arguably the decisions the parish council take affect people more directly than those in parliament.
- That members of the public may be put off from raising points if they are recorded:
- This was put to the 8 members of the public still present and not a single objection was raised, in fact all members were in favour of the recordings being made.
- There was concern over how long the recordings would be kept for after it was mentioned that the recordings would provide an invaluable tool for future parish councillors in say 10 years time so they could hear exactly why a decision was made – Some faces were aghast at the thought of them being kept for that long, stating that it sounded “sinister”.
- Council minutes are currently kept indefinitely.
There was no suggestion of further discussion to see how it could be made to work for all parties – unfortunately this is democracy in action, which means we now have to wait six months until we can raise the issue again.
The case we presented for the recording of meetings was based around a letter from Bob Neill MP the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government with regards to access to and recording of council meetings, some highlights from the letter include:
“In short transparency and openness should be the underlying principle behind everything councils do and in this digital age it is right that we modernise our approach to public access, recognising the contribution to transparency and democratic debate that social media and similar tools can make.”
“Bloggers, tweeters, residents with their own websites [my emphasis] and users of Facebook and YouTube are increasingly a part of the modern world, blurring the lines between professional journalists and the public.”
“The public should rightly expect that elected representatives who have put themselves up for public office be prepared for their decisions to be as transparent as possible and welcome a direct line of communication to their electorate.”
Cllr. Maiden (Chair of the council) commented that there was nothing more transparent than a recording of the meeting.
We also used documents from the National Association of Local Councils related to Quality Status – which is something Whitwell Parish Council is hoping to achieve by September 2012, some of the quotes we used:
“In order to thrive, democracies need active, involved, informed and engaged citizens.”
“Good communications and community involvement is critical to earning and maintaining the good will of the community you serve.”
“As statutory public bodies councils should be embracing modern communication methods to engage with their communities.”
You can find our full argument below as a PDF along with all other documents we used.
What we would like to have seen (other than allowing us to take recordings) given that members of the public stated they were in favour of meetings being recorded is the item being tabled for more debate and investigation, unfortunately it was flat out rejected rather than an amended proposal being put forward. Many of the points raised were reasonable points and questions that needed to be asked, most of which had already been addressed in my information pack, those that weren’t were ones that could have been finalised once it was agreed to record the meetings – such as how long to keep recordings for, how quickly to make them available etc.
We believe in open, transparent governance, free from party politics, where every member of the parish can be informed of discussions made and decisions taken in their name without having to attend long meetings at often inconvenient times. We will be continuing our efforts to get meetings recorded and freely available for all to listen to.
This may seem like an un-important issue to many, but whilst the official council minutes continue to provide the least possible information we (other than attending in person) are currently the most detailed source of information available on the happenings of Whitwell Parish Council and we’d like to make sure our information is at all times 100% accurate.