Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee 28th March 2013 Further ban on filming and conflicts of interest

Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee 28th March 2013 Moreton Day Centre Consultation

The papers for this meeting can be found on Wirral Council’s website.

Most of the meeting was about the twelve week consultation on the closure of Moreton Day Centre (which runs until the 5th June 2013).

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However once again, filming of this meeting was not allowed as the Chair said he had had “representations that one of the Members would not like to be filmed” and “until there was a policy please turn off the camera until we do get a policy, thank you.” For those who don’t know Members means councillors.

I then asked which councillor it was (as I could’ve quite easily moved the camera to point away from them).

Me: “Can I just ask which Member that was?”
Cllr Simon Mountney (Chair), who looked very uncomfortable at me having asked the question, answered with the politician’s answer of “Errm, you can ask, I think if the Member wishes to indicate then they can, if they don’t then they don’t.”

At this point Cllr Bernie Mooney looks straight at the camera (make of that what you will).

So what is the policy on filming meetings? Well, there’s the policy “Lights, Camera, Action” agreed unanimously by 64 councillors in December 2011. As it’s short it’s below:-


(1) Welcomes public engagement in the democratic process. Council notes the growing use of blogs and microblogs by members of the public and notes that many sites now also include video and audio recorded at Council meetings.

(2) Reaffirms its commitment, made last year by the previous Conservative Liberal Democrat administration, to ensure that any member of the public who wishes to film or broadcast from a public Council meeting is encouraged to do so.

(3) However, Council is concerned to protect the rights of members of the public, petitioners and others who are not elected members and may interact with the Council and its committees. Council asks the Director of Law HR and Asset Management to ensure that the Chairs of committees are appropriately briefed.

(4) Council would not wish to see proper debate constrained in any way by the presence of cameras or audio equipment and therefore asks the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to clarify in writing for members the position on qualified privilege which may go some way to allay fears about unfounded legal actions arising from detailed recordings of proceedings.

(5) Council further asks the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to draw up a protocol on the use of material designed to prevent any abuse of material which could be harmful to councillors who are legitimately engaged in the processes of democracy.

(6) In the meantime, the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management is asked to re-circulate the original guidance he produced when the issue first arose.

There’s then the amended motion (recording and filming within Council meetings) decided last December agreed by 42 councillors:

(1) Council notes that the Administration has not banned the public from being able to attend and film at meetings.

(2) The issue of filming is under review. The Acting Director of Law, Human Resources & Asset Management has been asked to look at how a balance can be struck between maintaining openness and transparency and addressing concerns among some members about what safeguards can be put in place on how video recordings might be used.

(3) Council notes that the wider issue of the Council streaming its committee meetings is being considered by the cross-party members Equipment Steering Group.

(4) Council asks for the outcome of the review to be presented to the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee for detailed consideration.

On point (4) there have been not just one but two meetings of the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee since last December, at neither one has a “review” been on the agenda.

There are also two Standards Committee decisions on this matter (all of which were agreed by Council without any amendment):

29/9/10 Resolved (12:0)- That this matter be referred to a future meeting to allow a much wider discussion involving all members of the council before a decision is made.

26/1/11 That the report be noted and that no further action be taken regarding this matter.

So the agreed policy (as outlined) is filming is allowed, the proposed review (which never seems to happen) is merely a smokescreen to ban filming yet the public are told Wirral Council has no policy.

As pointed out by the Health and Safety Executive here it’s nothing to do with health and safety, but openness and transparency.

Hmm openness, that rings a bell, ahh yes it’s mentioned in the new Councillor’s Code of Conduct:

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

There’s also some other fine words on the same page about how councillors should “promote and support these principles” (one of which is openness) “by leadership and example”.

However why would a councillor not want what they say at a public meeting on tape?

Well that was revealed shortly after filming stopped.

Cllr Denise Roberts declared a prejudicial interest in item 2 on the agenda as she’s a trustee of Arch initiatives whose funding is to be cut by £327,000. However Cllr Roberts didn’t leave the room as required during item 2.

Cllr Bernie Mooney declared an interest as an employee of Age UK (in the report linked to above they’re down under their previous name of Age Concern). The report detailed the fact that they needed to reduce grant funding by a further £173,000, Age Concern is currently in receipt of six amounts (£128,602.00 (Core costs), £134,569.00 for Advocacy and info, £33,339.00 for carer support and further amounts for two Day Centres and the Older Peoples Parliament).

Cllr Mooney lists her occupation as advice officer at Age UK. So did she declare a prejudicial interest in this agenda item and leave the room as any cuts to funding could affect her day job or at the very least that of her colleagues? No she didn’t leave the room while it was discussed. She declared an interest and then when the item came round for debate said her employer had an advocate paid for through the grant with two temporary ones, but talked about the growing need for these services.

So what does the current Councillors Code of Conduct state about this?

3. As a public figure, your public role may, at times, overlap with your personal and/or professional life and interests however when performing your public role as a member, DO act solely in terms of the public interest and DO NOT act in a manner to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, your friends, your employer or in relation to your business interests.

6. At a meeting where such issues arise, DO declare any personal and/or professional interests relating to your public duties and DO take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7. Certain types of decisions, including those relating to a permission, licence, consent or registration for yourself, your friends, your family members, your employer or your business interests, are so closely tied to your personal and/or professional life that your ability to make a decision in an impartial manner in your
role as a member may be called into question and in turn raise issues about the validity of the decision of the authority. DO NOT become involved in these decisions any more than a member of the public in the same personal and/or
professional position as yourself is able to be and DO NOT vote in relation to such matters. (Further clarification is provided in Schedule 2 of this Code).

9. Where you disclose a disclosable pecuniary interest, you must withdraw from the meeting room, including from the public gallery, during the whole consideration of any item of business in which you have an interest, except where you are permitted to remain as a result of a grant of a dispensation.

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Author: John Brace

New media journalist from Birkenhead, England who writes about Wirral Council. Published and promoted by John Brace, 134 Boundary Road, Bidston, CH43 7PH. Printed by UK Webhosting Ltd t/a Tsohost, 113-114 Buckingham Avenue, Slough, Berkshire, England, SL1 4PF.