The day democracy and freedom of the press died at Wirral Council: 28th October 2014
Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) at a public meeting earlier this year L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services), Cllr Bernie Mooney and Lyndzay Roberts
Yesterday I attended a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee and the meeting started twenty minutes late for reasons I shall go into below.
Here is a list of the councillors on this committee:
Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Labour) who refers to himself as Chair
Cllr Chris Meaden (Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, Labour)
Cllr Walter Smith (Labour councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Paul Hayes (Conservative councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Cherry Povall, JP (Conservative councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Mrs Pat Williams (Liberal Democrat councillor)
So out of that list of seven councillors, only Cllr Tony Smith, Cllr Chris Meaden and Cllr Mrs Pat Williams (three councillors) were actually present.
Also there, but not on the committee were Cllr Phil Gilchrist and Cllr Chris Carubia. Both of these latter two councillors participated as if they were members of the committee.
Prior to the meeting starting, the papers for the meeting which you can view on Wirral Council’s website hadn’t been published on Wirral Council’s website a week before the meeting as required by law but merely hours before the meeting was held.
I asked for a copy of the agenda and reports at the meeting itself (as is my legal right to do so). I was very reluctantly given a copy of the agenda by an officer who had a big bunch of copies of the agenda but had to check he had permission to give one to me.
Before the meeting started, I figured out they were going to show a video so asked about background music and I was told there would be background music in it, so I stated I wouldn’t be filming the twelve-minute video shown (which was agenda item five ALUMNI PROJECT – Creative Youth Development – Presentation) because of the ongoing issues I wrote about yesterday surrounding publishing video of public meetings at which video was shown containing background music.
As the video was about twelve minutes long (and I planned to film discussion of it once it was over), this left the other seven agenda items plus the rest of that one.
However Lindsay Davidson (whose job description is “Senior Locality Manager – Youth Support”) and is an employee of Wirral Council was before the meeting not happy with the prospect of me filming this public meeting of a local Council (that she worked at) at all.
Another thing to bear in mind, is that whereas the Legal and Member Services section of Wirral Council send along a trained solicitor and someone to take minutes at all other meetings, this did not happen that evening.
I pointed out that usually committees have a solicitor and a committee services officer present just to be rebutted by Lindsay Davidson with “We service our own committee.”
She carried on saying, “As far as I’m concerned it’s a safeguarding issue because we haven’t got parental consent.”
No, she wasn’t referring to councillors having to write to their parents and gain their written permission of their parents before they attend and get filmed at a public meeting. Nor was she apparently referring to Council officers (of which there were five including herself and the Head of Service (Head of Targeted Services) Deborah Gornik.
She was referring to one young person present at the public meeting called Daniel (who she told me at this point was sixteen years old but in later conversation (in front of councillors and Surjit Tour) refused to divulge what age Daniel was). Interestingly Daniel hasn’t been formally appointed by Council to this committee and isn’t (despite what Council officers may state) part of the committee.
This was my response to her “As far as I’m concerned it’s a legal issue because the regulations changed in August” and before I could even finish that sentence Lindsay started talking over me.
She said that Daniel’s parents “don’t know”. So I talked with Surjit Tour over the phone in reception, who agreed with me that it was a committee of Wirral Council that met in public.
However as far as Surjit Tour was concerned, he wanted to dissuade me from filming the meeting at all. So what does the law actually state on the issue now?
Regulation 4 changed the Local Government Act 1972 to state the following (principal council doesn’t just refer to meetings of the Council at Wirral Council but also committees and subcommittees):
“(7A) While a meeting of a principal council in England is open to the public, any person attending is to be permitted to report on the meeting.
(7C) A person attending a meeting of a principal council in England for the purpose of reporting on the meeting must, so far as practicable, be afforded reasonable facilities for doing so.
(7E) Any person who attends a meeting of a principal council in England for the purpose of reporting on the meeting may use any communication method, including the internet, to publish, post or otherwise share the results of the person’s reporting activities.
“(9) In this section “reporting” means—
(a) filming, photographing or making an audio recording of proceedings at a meeting,
(b) using any other means for enabling persons not present to see or hear proceedings at a meeting as it takes place or later, or
(c) reporting or providing commentary on proceedings at a meeting, orally or in writing, so that the report or commentary is available as the meeting takes place or later to persons not present.”
There are similar modifications also made by Regulation 3 to the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 which also apply.
So that’s the legal position, I can film the public meeting of the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee, whether or not a sixteen year old happens to be there without his parents.
However what happened yesterday evening is bizarre.
The meeting did not start on time and a twenty minute conversation happened between Lindsay Davidson, Cllr Chris Meaden, Cllr Tony Smith, Surjit Tour, I think Deborah Gornik and myself in the corridor outside Committee Room 1.
I was basically told that by Surjit Tour that if I exercised my right (enshrined in law) to film the meeting, Surjit Tour would advise the Chair (Cllr Tony Smith) to adjourn the meeting and therefore the meeting would not take place that evening.
This is in fact why the meeting started twenty minutes late. I offered the following compromises to Wirral Council:
a) that I would only film the side of the room that the 16-year-old was not actually sitting in: REFUSED
b) that I would only audio record the public meeting: REFUSED
c) that I wouldn’t film the video shown during the meeting: REFUSED
You can tell how any other “reasonable compromises” were dealt with too.
Wirral Council were obviously not going to budge from their stubborn position until I backed down. Personally I feel sorry for employees and opposition councillors in such an organisation as the way it was dealt with was wholly unreasonable.
This is also probably why there have been strikes recently by the unions, because both Wirral Council’s management and politicians behave unreasonably.
Both Surjit Tour and I knew what the legal position was and that I could film.
Officers (including Lindsay Davidson who was “servicing the committee”) didn’t know the legal position, neither did councillors and were looking to Surjit Tour to not only offer them legal advice but to negotiate on their behalf my agreement not to film the meeting. Neither Surjit Tour or I had the text of the legislation to show them, although it takes minutes to look up these matters as Wirral Council does have both wired and wireless internet access (including in the Committee Room 1 that the meeting was being held in).
He, Surjit Tour as Head of Legal and Member Services could only advise councillors to adjourn the meeting if I tried to film it and by then the officers had got the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services/Chair involved Cllr Tony Smith (who is obviously rather cheesed off already at the moment over my reporting on Lyndale School matters). I realise officers have had safeguarding drummed into them (perhaps this is the legacy of Martin Morton), to the extent that they repeat it as a mantra when people tell them things they don’t want to hear.
However from a practical perspective, a 16-year-old in the UK at the moment is old enough to:
vote in the recent Scottish independence referendum (if he or she lived in Scotland)
join the Armed Forces
leave compulsory education
get arrested & probably other matters I haven’t thought of.
However according to Wirral Council, even at 16 years old you are not old enough to attend a public meeting without getting a written note from your parents first, just in case you might get filmed or recorded on tape.
In fact according to Wirral Council officers you are still treated as a child until you are eighteen.
In some ways even though I am well over eighteen and in my mid 30s some Wirral Council officers (and politicians) still treat me as if I was a child. After all, the reaction last night to me trying to film the meeting was the way you’d deal with a two or three-year old having a temper tantrum.
Although not explicitly stated by anyone, reading between the lines and based on how the discussions went, it came across as “Go outside John, we’ll tell you how you should behave, don’t you realise you shouldn’t be filming this meeting and how dare you try to do so and annoy us?”
In other words the petulant attitude I’ve come to expect from councillors and officers at Wirral Council.
So, although it sets a bad precedent, I decided yesterday evening after a twenty-minute stalemate on this issue pragmatically not to film the meeting because:
a) Wirral Council officers and councillors were unaware of the legal change caused by the The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 coming into effect on August 6th 2014 this year
b) Surjit Tour and I have already had many exchanges of letters and verbal discussions previously about these matters and I have also had a meeting with Joe Blott.
c) This was the first meeting of the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee since the legal change, so you can’t expect Wirral Council to know about it
d) Wirral Council has to make decisions that don’t breach the Human Rights Act 1998 (specifically interference with my right to freedom of speech)
e) the way to deal with such matters in the past has been through negotiation and compromise although obviously the last time this happened (before August 2014) was back in June 2014 the Labour councillor Cllr Steve Niblock took a similarly militant stance against filming at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Licensing Act 2003 Subcommittee to make a decision about an off licence to sell alcohol in Moreton, no children were present at the meeting then, but Cllr Steve Niblock (the Chair) still shouted at me not to film it.
So this leaves Wirral Council in the position now where the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP refers to such decisions on filming by local councils in a newspaper article as behaving in the past like “Putin’s Russia” and is exactly the sort of dispute the regulations are there to avoid.
Wirral Council’s way of skirting around the regulations applying is to pressure me into voluntarily agreeing not to film & or audio record a meeting before it takes place. If I say no and take a militant attitude they will make sure the meeting doesn’t actually happen.
So that is Wirral Council’s position, I am allowed to film public meetings. However if I try to do so, the public meeting won’t actually happen. It’s a bit like Schrödinger’s cat really and exactly a fortnight after this farce last night I’m sure I’ll be going over this same ground again over the Youth Parliament meeting where there will be more than one young person present.
Below are my uncorrected notes of the meeting yesterday and in a PS I will point out that I tape record meetings because I have a writing disability because of breaking my wrist in two places in 2012. This means I can no longer write shorthand so I use the audio tape recordings for the purposes of quotes.
However equality issues, disability issues and safeguarding concerns regarding myself are not considered by Wirral Council as hypothetical views of a 16 year olds parents trump the “reasonable adjustments” Wirral Council are required to take during meetings.
For an example of a reasonable adjustment made during the meeting, Cllr Phil Gilchrist (with hearing problems) asked for the tea/coffee machine to be turned off as no microphones were used (although three were put out nobody sat near them).
However reasonable adjustments are always made at Wirral Council for disabilities of councillors, or its own staff but its legal duties to the disabled public and press are not even thought of and if raised not considered as they should.
Below are my notes of the meeting (I will point out that some of these service changes are currently out to public consultation at the moment):
The reports published shortly before the meeting was held can be read on Wirral’s website.
Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee 28th October 2014
552 pm late start
Visual description of young person chairing meeting (Daniel) has black curly hair, wears glasses… approx 16 years old wearing .blue short sleeved shirt
Cllr Tony Smith (Chair) apologies discussion whether Mr Brace able will not do tonight resolved another
Welcome y… apologies
P Williams didnt get agenda until today cllrs missing oversight
lindsay problems server getting on to server … … reminder gpt agenda
P Giochrist attachemts council website couldnt open…
lindy resolved today wasnt resolved
daniel over to you
go round asking people’s names
Linndsay Davidson Senior locality manager Youth and Play service
Cllr tony smith
Cllr pat williams
Cllr phil gilchrist
Cllr chros meaden
South and West Wirral…
creative youth development
P Gilchrist d…matters arising from minutes hand over Lindsay…
Note Left side: 4 coucillors (CM (Lab), PW (LD), PG (LD) and CC (LD)), 2 officers
Right: Cllr Tony Smith, officers (Lindsay Davidson and two others) and Daniel (young person)
Lindsay highlight a few things senior locality manager’s report 1.1 inform latest goals project underway … following on from success under 1.2.1 lads project started in September proving to be very successful aged young men… designed to address a number issues harmful exploitative relationships… towards end program residential Oaklands outdoor education centre first project young men did have concerns drop out rate male staff working with young men retention rate high midway meeting had to get Birkenhead Youth Hub
cllr tony smith how identified
officers agencies targetted services… so agencies able identify needs young person get consent also used part working young people…
lindsay challenging young men program … its a testament program…
officer midway thing big impact groups teenage males mix in one spot … all mixed all deliberately mixed groups… a project in itself…
p gilchrist public health funded Wirral South Constituency Committee improve funding or top up… public health mentioned … has been funding South Wirral additional residential young men… under item 2 Wallasey District Wallasey Youth Hub… 12 week…
Lindsay heavily involved partnership work police don’t know aware Flaybrick Cemetery traves outreach involved not only working with young people … perpetrators… trying divert further criminal damage also working other young people locality concerned peers done this wanted to show other young people were like that workong young people rangers cemetery cleanup positive project different aspects … South Wirral Bebington Youth Hub redesigned painted music room young women crime prevention panel… under 5 West Wirral… West Wirral Youth Hub Thursdays young people additional needs disabilities accessing Youth Hub… … good practice journals weighting oist families cross agency steering group further funding… demands that particular program item 7 7. 1 housing service new Wirral based .. … yp family… ok.. and again under 7.1 aaare response young people took part healthy eating project positive outcomes chefs Barrow in Furness healthy eating techniques homeless have been… .. ok number 8 partivipation and engagement fee days ago Youth Voice Conference make aware under 8.2 have reported framework young people brought paper previous merting champion event prior Youth Parliament 11/11 what doing champion event sign up become yp champion some activities tea young people and councillors Youth Parliament into Chamber for session… busy collecting motions majority theme conference emotional health and wellbeing number 10 beechwood supporting with homework projects creating number artifacts enable young people doing things like making models atoms sex education… huge models of sperms eggs and ovaries… extremely successful giving to curriculum Daniel end report
Daniel questions… ?
P Gilchrist detail Fender health and safety closure building
Mark reason closed … throw …at one windows youth club on first floor thick windows stone kind of shattered… unfortuantely quite a long time to get repaired quite blessing in disguise dealing with a lot antisocial behaviour on Woodchurch coming in to building youth workers stop doing this stop doing r ship put on hold a bit take stock go out onto streets build better relationships young people Moira liasing community looking at how involve community volunteers… running youth project … all young people… mischief night along police fire service operation banger have some music playing food fire service providing sports mobile football cage looking into having … finalising the health and safety but really positive … community more and more involved people weren’t reporting antisocial behaviour positive step community get involved yp Woodchurch
T Smith add to what Mark said engagement adults in new approach and that talking about 10-20 live on estate let someone elee do it got good leaders come forward … things move rapidly see a good future for it… hopefully lookimg at very carefully Woodchirch High … antisocial behaviour… headteacher myself working .. encouarging done a lot work
Daniel all questions
P Willaims on 6.4 kids timd ..
officer supported London project families mental health shared group session whole families particular area… work children come back together pizza… got an average … referred into it 18 months at real capacity… 15 adults quite hefty put a stop to it … 2/3 referrals a month
P Willaims very very necessary…
officer lot of good will creative ways keeping going well needed at a satge need look…
officer ward 10/12
C Meaden adult dance class
officer struggling along…
C Meaden quick step or something as long as not Zumba
Lindsay one at momemt adult singing…
Cllr Chris Meaden leaves room…
Officer film aums it up shown at alumni event watch that
A thirteen minute film was shown at this point in the meeting.
subtitles voice over alumni … participative arts youth work… interview groups individuals… alumni project … camera 40 years old .. fivus take … final stages narrow down final set of images yecgmival skill… quirks of film photography …
like u photographer chloe
music and voice over
Liam and Gemma Chloe… blossom tree … courtyard industrial estate next Cammell Lairds…
Pacific swing Eliott
shoot taken at dusk… changing shutter speed… architectural quality capture personalities… piano calmer Cathryn… leaning on piano love music… Ben photographer Jamie Lee… learn a great deal about photographry.. using film cameras… buy one for myself focus every aspect picture … rather stunning iamges … chose photograph them so many ideas choosing wlls interesting decision… interesting shot chose photograph Ben… number shots taken courtyard… rather exciting image… … shows in photograph look like a … … with… camera… I like the light and shadows in studio phases… which gives… before the … happy that i got perfect pictures since shoot … Josh photographer Maya spoke about how … hos story how improved homself… wanted reflect in photographs noticed Josh spoke.. moved graceful way… gentle person.. shadow bigger… wanted Josh suggest to them… camera … for one shoots… shutter speed not as long enjoyed having josh … way chooses words… interesting story … would’ve gone down another lath this shoot taken as film setting photographs… dropped ueard stories how much fun has … character… all told lots of funny stories… take photograph control light noticed … decided use spotlight plesed photograph… Alice many stories how nighty… red dreadlocks started to take photos different side inner confidence … interesting places… compassionate personality… … you are in darkness this is how it should be doing job well… technical skills… chose image close bond between them spotlight … my point… cerebral palsy… interview her … outside the centre… …
educational pathway trainibg
C Meaden there that night brilliant night what came out evening young people spoke night explained … excellent evening
officer permanent display … biz cebtee Birkenhead Park some examples here hack stories
large photos put up by windows not all jazz hands through a hard time give back…
officer booking lots viewings.. takes over water a bit
P Willaims basic equipement
P Willaims learning …
officer working on Priory funded by Lottery opening event huge … projections journey take community through journey about 15 in group multiple needs.. large number people on autistic spectrum
P Williams look forward seeing in my ward at Williamson [Art Gallery]
Chair all questions hand back Lindsay Youth Voice Conference
Lindsay this is me youth voice conference on 16/10 havent really evaluated it fully didnt want to miss opportunity highlights conference aims… Youth Voice Conference explore issues important to them… a second about how identified that
628 Cllr Chris Meaden leaves..
Lindsay . again.. opportunity yp question … senior ppl partner organisations what’s imporatnt to them make sure yp truly involved… in terms conference 12th annual conference this year … approcimately 200 young people overwhelmingly wanted theme this years conference emotional health .. yes things like sex education alcohol subtance misuse important what don’t tend to talk about issues mental health wellbeing what particularly about themes look more carefully at.. looking out ourselves and each other … promoted variety invitations secondary schools… youth voice group… overarching group representative youth forums Children in care Council youth voice group planned… and developed conference consulted … identify themes young people involved every aspect conference for young people… looking at daniel involved conference too.. is about making sure young
631 Cllr Chris Meaden returns
Lindsay instrumental subject amtter sensitivity feel as workers .. some .. needed some supoort in terms of our partners plan workshops… organised steering group where yp met whole range partners… Wirral Autistic Society health services and schools whole range people workshops identified talk a little bit more approproate consultant partner agency… plan content workshops… and we again… this year hot seat panel…
Cllr Chris Meaden said she had left the room before they came to that point
Lindsay formulated questions… list some questions.. rather identifying all of them …
Cllr Tony Smith passes out a handout (1 A4 side)…
Lindsay ADHD autism… yp with autism actually wanting to express yourselves coping ooss change social isolation social media aad gaming .. Daniel you say something? putting you on spot concerned not only themselves but perr not going out picking up phone texting can only say what I do lost without my phone yp saying 100 fold real serious issues camh concerned about as well a lot wotkship enabling yp deal issue friends might be too isolated through gaming media literacy… some sterotypes yp concerned … airbrushing photographs what is a real image taking to Council real image not airburshed real people publicity final workshop topic dealing with homophobia… concerned about some issues daily basis .. ok haven’t fully evaluated this early days over 90 young ppl in attendance aktest count 96
Lindsay 96 plus 20 16 school colleges involved… a scale 1-10 and what were saying to yp said at conference theme emotional health and wellbeing themes Youth Parliament motions.. prioritised in debate.. what incraesingly want to happen Wirral Youth Conference not just standalone influences number deabtes of which Youth Parliament will be one… full evaluation to follow whistlestop tour
Debroah Gornik?.. no matter how many times consult young people cross section generally have same issues as adult population… antisocial behavior litter crime bothers young people exactly same ways articulate in terms telling us … concerns that they have concerns we would have about
C Meaden one I sat in bullying side how recognised children being bullied are kids looking after other kids as well was interesting did sneak out left after
Chair (Daniel) representative police didn’t answer single question
Officer she did
Chair hand over Steve talk about Wirral summer holiday playschemes report Wirral Play Council summer 2014 if grant give Wirral Play Council run program for us … operating since 1974 how long grant 35 years know chris received grant considerable … so as I said before restructure relook at how deliver schemes essentially meant less schemes conducted … geographical … slight increse provision… also able to get run schemes Prenton Eastham and West Kirby magenat resdents group support … West Wirral constituency spread schemes 68 schmes throught 4 districts additioanl grant smaller projects grant Love Wirral supply tomatoes strawberries growing strawberries tomatoes strawberry deadm took home flowers… cost £500 good value 4.4 again had a good return play work… 60% round about 75 playworkers fully trained qualifiaction recognsied university Gloucester intriductiry recignsied … qualified one things highlight terms program… what gone on to do over the years… lecturers.. one particular person.. deolivering training… started careers introduction work children 2-3 summers working on summer playschemes good ground how develop careers… so just moving on start slides in a second what did on playday obviously a big event … more public event about 3,000 participants what these slides are at the moment have a competition… initially artistic … again what is play asked came up all sorts ideas.. Mayor … judges competition often said won’t have want a competition who’s won really want a competition talking about cooperation climbimg being active examples one from Bebington and Woodchurch these are the plants Love Wirral… climbing wall again this year… Mayor Mayoress we also have this raet street oaijters give yp and oarehts families all get involved early in day looks like France railings Birkenhead Park paint what we want to paint… .. face painting… minim version zorbs health and safety friendly version straw bales.. football cahllenge photo with Mayor … made friends as well another photo with Mayor public heakth police all services… lot of other groups … also families themselves dont have used to supervise children… just invite ppl come down… notice that on day family day out… played and had fun… tahts it .. obviosuly appxed more detail schemes themselves 1,000 chiodren comments children parents what they think
P Willaims interesting shaped pots…
P Gilchrist dropped into met yp running scheme … from Edge Hill enthusiatsic working hard occupy actaully was … making sire things happened … bottomless pit plan now what os around … …
Officer every year
P Gilchrist ok
Lindsay proposl public consultation could affect Play Council and summer playschemes make people aware ..
Chair all question thanks Steve come back Cllr Tony Smith
Cllr Tony Smith thanks you well done quickly through meeting good experience havent notified any other business…
P Gilchrist ask something haven’t notified haer staff whats done this year’s consultation budget with young peoples views collected fed into process opportunityty committee review in time consultation important scrutiny committees as item based topic go Families and Wellbeing where go once collected?
C Meaden brought in just over 2,500 from young people yesterday and 300 or 400 today don’t know what committe go to hasn’t been discussed yet
D Gornik waiting Council decision once get that position then we look to do consultation young people staff and community users not at that stage until decision
C Meaden … all from .. play schemes quite a few boosted up numbers come into consultation yesterday
Lindsay young people harder to reach… staff comtribute either by website or paper copied
C Meaden making sure aware …
P Gilchrist be clear Deboarh where all collected process to be processed wrong word studied and examined before report to Cabinet not clear where might go to
C Meaden analysis breakdown
T Smith responses each age group
C Meaden in press how many responses staff know how many so far
T smith young people made aware … £2 million is oppty number
C Meaden what public consultation about look at it do best resolve some issues.. cash strapped authority…
P Gilchrist resolved
Chair right date next meeting
Officer next one set January beginning February…
Cllr Tony Smith thanks all Mark and Steve officers Karen and thanks very much
C Meaden Daniel back again fine…
Continues at The day democracy and freedom of the press died at Wirral Council: 28th October 2014 (part 2).
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