Secretary of State backs call for greater openness in Greenwich

A call by Greenwich Conservatives for greater transparency in Greenwich Council meetings has been backed by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.

Councillor Nigel Fletcher, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, had written to Greenwich Labour Leader Chris Roberts asking him to open up Council meetings to greater public scrutiny, by removing the presumption against members of the public making their own audio-visual recordings of meetings.  The Council’s constitution currently prohibits recordings unless prior permission is sought from the Mayor and Chief Executive.

The Government has issued guidance to local authorities making clear that opening up meeting in this way is good practice, and Councillor Fletcher wrote to the Local Government Secretary suggesting he also consider requiring local authorities to make recordings available online.  Public access to meetings and their papers has long been required by law, but there is no obligation for Councils to make recordings available for those unable to attend in person.

No response has been received from Councillor Roberts, but the Secretary of State has replied to Councillor Fletcher giving his support.  On the issue of the Council’s constitution, Mr Pickles says:

‘Whilst this is a local matter, I would generally remark that clinging to bureaucratic rules that prevent or discourage the public from filming or recording meetings do not, in any way, promote the Council’s transparency and openness.  Instead, it weakens local people’s confidence in local democracy and their elected representatives.  This is the reason why your Council needs to unconditionally embrace and promote transparency and openness.  Hence I support your proposed plan to get your Council to move away from the current process and adopt a proactively open policy.’

On the suggestion of requiring Councils to make their own recordings available, Mr Pickles highlighted the fact that some Councils are already doing this and said ‘This is another initiative that you should encourage your Council to adopt as it would bring the Council decision making closer to the local people who in turn will see exactly what is being done and how local taxes are spent.’

Welcoming his support, Councillor Fletcher said: ‘The Labour leadership of Greenwich Council faces many accusations of lacking transparency in its decision-making.  I would say these simple measures to open up our meetings are the least we could do to ensure proper scrutiny by the people who elect us.  I am pleased that the Secretary of State agrees, and I hope Councillor Roberts might now find time to respond to my letter.’