Employment Tribunal (Alison Mountney v Wirral Council) Day 10 of 10: Judgement

Employment Tribunal (Alison Mountney v Wirral Council) Day 10 of 10: Judgement

Employment Tribunal (Alison Mountney v Wirral Council) Day 10 of 10: Judgement


Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for Employment Tribunal case 2400718/16)
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for Employment Tribunal case 2400718/16)

This is a report of a very small part of an Employment Tribunal hearing I attended (the judgement). By this point the matter had already been heard over 9 days and this was day 10 of 10. Brief details are below.

Venue: Tribunal Room 2, Third Floor, Liverpool Civil and Family Court Hearing Centre, 35 Vernon Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2BX

Case reference: 2400718/16

Appellant: Mrs A. Mountney

Respondent: Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

Employment Judge: Judge Robinson

Tribunal Members:
Mr AG Barker
Mrs JE Williams

Clerk: Lynne Quilty

Date: 10.2.2017

Time: 3.18 pm

Continue reading “Employment Tribunal (Alison Mountney v Wirral Council) Day 10 of 10: Judgement”

What do Snowden, Schrems and the end of Safe Harbour have in common? A tale of international espionage, blogging and data protection

What do Snowden, Schrems and the end of Safe Harbour have in common? A tale of international espionage, blogging and data protection


The Cookie Monster from American TV show Sesame Street
The Cookie Monster from American TV show Sesame Street

The reason for the lack of blog posts on this blog since 9th November 2015 is a bit of a saga involving international espionage, the whistleblower Snowden and a legal case.

Five years ago when this blog was started in October 2010, it was set up as a free blog and hosted by an American company in America that runs WordPress called Automattic Inc. At this point in time in 2010 that was the best place to have it.

UK libel law at the time meant that is was better to have it hosted in a country with better protections for freedom of speech, however since 2010 libel laws have changed here.

Blogs process some personal information (for example if somebody leaves their name and email address to write a comment or for other reasons).

In order to protect the privacy of EU citizens, this data was covered by an international agreement between the EU and the American companies called the Safe Harbour Decision. Back in 2000 the European Commission had agreed that meant that the United State’s principles complied with European Union Law on this matter and the relevant EU directive.

However, then Snowden blew the whistle and the public and media became aware of the activities of the US intelligence community. An Austrian citizen called Maximillian Schrems was concerned about the activities of Facebook and as Facebook’s European headquarters is across the Irish Sea in Ireland complained to the Irish equivalent of what is in the UK called the Information Commissioner’s Office.

In his complaint he stated "in the light of the revelations made in 2013 by Edward Snowden concerning the activities of the United States intelligence services (in particular the National Security Agency (‘the NSA’)), the law and practice of the United States do not offer sufficient protection against surveillance by the public authorities".

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner responded to Schrems by (and I’m summarising here) rejecting his complaint in part because of the Safe Harbour agreement. Schrems asked the Irish court to review whether the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s response to his complaint had been legal. However as the Safe Harbour decision had been made at the European level, it was referred to the European Court of Justice to decide.

The European Court of Justice agreed with Schrems and found the Safe Harbour agreement was invalid. The various European data protection authorities (such as the Information Commissioner’s Office here in the UK) have given organisations affected a grace period before the possibility of enforcement action.

In the UK this grace period runs to the end of January 2016 and so organisations affected can deal with the implications.

Although some of what Schrems complained about (for example no legal right for EU citizens in America to sue the Americans for unlawful disclosure of personal information) is being addressed by a law going through the American political system called the Judicial Redress Act 2015 and there is hope in some quarters that there may be a successor to the Safe Harbour agreement, what will happen next is rather unclear.

As data protection lead, my considered opinion was this. Since the Schrems case rendered the Safe Harbour agreement invalid, the only option I was looking at that didn’t involve having a crystal ball involved switching where this blog is hosted from America to within the European Union.

Last year this blog made more money in advertising than its running costs (unusual for a blog I know) and just under a month ago I had paid £68 to Automatic Inc for an extra 10 gigabytes of space so I could write some "big data" journalism stories as previously there was a 3 gigabyte cap.

As a result of the Schrems decision that £68 has been refunded, but the files used over the 3 gigabyte cap had to be transferred to the new host for the blog.

The comments and posts also had to be transferred over. As there were five years worth of these, for some reason the transfer process didn’t work doing it all as one go, so I had to do it in five files of about a year at a time.

The internal links to the old blog before I registered the johnbrace.com domain name in 2012 I also updated manually.

Then I had to make sure the blog at its new host was compliant with another piece of EU legislation (hence the picture above of the Cookie Monster from the American TV show Sesame Street) that got transposed into UK law that referred to cookies.

So, that’s why there haven’t been any blog posts for a while, because my time has been occupied dealing with compliance issues.

Next on my list of things to do as part of this project will be setting up email addresses for this blog (that is email addresses in the format @johnbrace.com ).

Ultimately it’s considered best practice for a blog to be hosted (that is where it is physically based in the world) as near as possible to most of its users. For example another website I run that caters to a North American audience is hosted in Canada (thankfully unaffected by the Safe Harbour agreement).

As you’d expect from a hyperlocal blog, 91% of the visitors to this blog are from the United Kingdom. It therefore makes sense for it to be hosted in the UK as it will now in theory be quicker for those visiting it from the UK.

So hopefully this gives an explanation as to why I haven’t been writing as much. There is still ~3Gb of data to transfer, email addresses to set up etc. I may take a break in updating this blog over Christmas 2015 and do that in the holidays.

So what’s the Wirral Council angle to all this? It boils down to my attitude towards the "rule of law". As an investigative journalist I often write about the public sector’s non-compliance with legislation.

However there’s an unwritten rule I’ve had in force since 2012 (that although if I did I could use internal resources to do so which seem to match those of say a local council) that I don’t go down the Schrems route and start challenging the decisions of public sector bodies through the courts.

Ultimately I’m one for political solutions rather than legal ones. Writing about a public sector body not complying with the law is one thing, but (don’t try to laugh too hard at this point) I’ve developed a policy of generally not interfering in the internal affairs of the public sector here.

The public sector as a result don’t interfere in my life much* (*to give one example telling Biffa to stop collecting the rubbish each week).

My job is to report on matters. I haven’t been a member of a political party for three years and I believe to do so would damage my independence considering my day job.

My role now, is not political activism or to overthrow governments (yes I did a fair bit of that in my more radical youth peacefully I might point out through the ballot box and political means), but to just do my job.

Ten years ago I went for a long walk from South Fulton, Georgia, across the state line to South Fulton, Tennessee and had a long think about what I wanted to do with my life. Many of the people I’d grown up with on the Wirral (the very people who if they’d stayed could have made it a much better place) had left the Wirral and for various reasons (for example career) lived elsewhere.

I knew at the time Merseyside had problems* (*yes an understatement but this was before the 2008 financial crash) and I made a choice then that altered the course of my life over the last ten years. I decided that morally from an ethical perspective that I should return and do my best to make the world a slightly better place, rather than do what many of the people I’d grown up with do and leave.

Just like Schrems was influenced in his lawsuit by time spent working in America, the time I spent in America probably influenced me in the battles I’ve had over the past few years over the issue of filming public meetings.

Freedom of speech and the diversity of media that exists in the UK are a precious matter. This blog for example allows for political speech and discourse to happen. Without such a pressure valve for society, so people can express their opinion, very bad things would happen.

Part of my formal university education (something I don’t often refer to on this blog and my days in student union politics) was about terrorism, counter-terrorism, political struggles etc and I’m sure no-one following the news will be unaware of the recent sad events that happened in France.

International politics (although I could probably write another few thousand words on the subject) is probably a little beyond the scope of this blog post. Ultimately some local politicians here on Merseyside can at times be parochial in their outlook.

I however have to take a global perspective on matters. Blogging is not just about the person writing the blog, but the community that reads the blog. Although I’m under no obligation to be open and transparent about such matters I feel considering the rumours that start going round when I stop blogging for a bit it was better to set the record straight.

I will end by making a point that’ll probably only make sense to data protection professionals or those with an interest in this area. There are protections written in to the data protection legislation to cover journalism. Ultimately the 8th data protection principle which states "Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data" doesn’t apply to journalism.

However the seventh data protection principle does apply which states "Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data".

There’s nothing I can do really to prevent the intelligence community taking an interest in this blog. In turn the intelligence community would argue and have argued that what they do is lawful. Even if this blog is hosted in the UK, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) could quite happily spy on it without me knowing. Under the Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement they could share this signals intelligence with other countries such as the NSA in America. So just be aware of what you put online as privacy died a death a long time ago. It is a trivial matter for the intelligence community to access the deep web (for example email accounts and parts of websites that aren’t available to the public).

There are also plenty of companies that for public relations purposes monitor blogs and social media. Despite the current concerns over the relatively minor costs to the public sector in responding to FOI (Freedom of Information) requests, untold £millions of your money is spent by the UK public sector on public relations. Plenty of parts of the public sector (even locally here on Merseyside) have commercial subscriptions to such services to find out what is being written about them. For every one John Brace there are an estimated four to five people working in public relations.

I exist in a world of embarrassing information that powerful people and organisations would probably prefer me not to publish. So apologies for the lack of responses to comments and emails over the last fortnight.

I will finish my last sentence with a bit of free public relations advice (unlike the public sector who pays £650+VAT for this sort of advice), never cheese off the press.

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Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)

Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)

Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)


I was reading through the Biffa contract (who get paid ~£12 million a year for collecting bins and other things) and this interesting snippet about Freedom of Information and Data Protection caught my eye on page 59. I haven’t made any FOI requests for the yearly CO2 emissions of bin lorries but this is how such a request would be dealt with if someone were to do so. This is probably only of interest to those who work in this area such as the media, FOI practitioners and of limited interest to the public, so apologies if I’m getting boring! Contractor in the contract refers to Biffa Waste Services Limited. At I couldn’t help but laugh at the bit about time for compliance for FOI requests considering Wirral Council’s track record and my recent decision notice from ICO on that matter.

The “absolute discretion” bit in 4.61.3 is very interesting as quite often local councils refuse to release information about companies and contracts on commercial sensitivity grounds saying well we’d like to give you this information but company X won’t let us.

Last Thursday (11th September 2014) Wirral Council’s Cabinet agreed to ask Kevin Adderley to enter into negotiations with Biffa over extending this ~£12 million/year contract from 2020 to 2027 without putting it out to tender. However an extra clause was added over value for money. Mr. Adderley was asked to report back to a future Cabinet meeting on the outcome of negotiations.

However the contract does state that if Wirral Council wish to extend the contract from 2020 to 2027 they don’t have to tell Biffa this until on or before 21st August 2019. So why the big rush other than to pander to Biffa’s commercial interests and damage Wirral Council’s?

Well from what was said at the Cabinet meeting Biffa Waste Services Limited have offered Wirral Council “incentives” on the current contract (which runs to 2020) if Wirral Council agree to a seven-year contract extension and don’t put it out to competitive tender when it expires in 2020.

Extending the contract by seven years is effectively making a decision that will tie the hands of future administrations (of whatever party or parties) at Wirral Council. However I’m sure (if officers are doing their job properly) that what I’ve just written is the kind of details that were in the exempt appendices for last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. The Labour politicians on Wirral Council’s Cabinet decided that the public aren’t really supposed to know about it (which is why the press and public got chucked out of the public meeting before those appendices were decided despite the public interest test arguably being in favour of such stuff being in the public domain).

Another factor to consider is that from November 2014 Wirral Council will be under a legal duty to publish such contracts (we here have a copy of the very long contract as part of the 2013/14 audit but it would probably take me about a day of work just to publish a fraction of it as it is very, very, very long) and from November 2014 invoices. Hence I’m sure Biffa are keen to have it extended by seven years, before people like the Rt Hon Frank Field MP start referring to them again (see the last Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting for that) and anyone kicks up more of a fuss! Oh dear, have I let an awful lot of cats out of the bag yet again?


4.61 Freedom of Information and Data Protection

4.61.1 The Contractor acknowledges that the Council is subject to the requirements of the FOIA and the Environmental Information Regulations and shall assist and cooperate with the Council (at the Contractor’s expense) to enable the Council to comply with Information disclosure requirements.

4.61.2 The Contractor shall and shall procure that its sub-contractors shall: Transfer a Request for Information to the Council as soon as practicable after receipt and in any event within two Working Days of receiving a Request for Information; Provide the Council with a copy of all Information in its possession or power in the form that the Council requires within five Working Days (or such other period as the Council may specify) of the Council requesting that Information; and Provide all necessary assistance as reasonably requested by the Council to enable the Council to respond to a Request for Information within the time for compliance set out in section 10 of the FOIA or Regulation 5(2) of the Environmental Information Regulations.

4.61.3 The Council shall be responsible for determining at its absolute discretion whether:- The Information is exempt from disclosure under FOIA and the Environmental Information Regulations; The Information is to be disclosed in response to a Request for Information, and In no event shall the Contractor respond directly to a Request for Information unless expressly authorised to do so by the Council.

4.61.4 The Contractor acknowledge that the Council may, acting in accordance with the FOIA, or the Environmental Information Regulations disclose Information:- Without consulting with the Contractor, or Following consultation with the Contractor and having taken its views into account.

4.61.5 The Contractor acknowledges that any lists or schedules provided by it outlining Confidential Information are of indicative value only and that the Council may nevertheless be obliged to disclose Confidential Information in accordance with Clause

4.61.6 The Contractor shall ensure that all information produced in the course of the Contract relating to the Contract is retained for disclosure and shall permit the Council to inspect such records as requested from time to time.


Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 59
Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 59
Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 25
Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 25

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Improvement Board (15th November 2013) The next five minutes (a transcript)

Improvement Board (15th November 2013) The next five minutes (a transcript)

Improvement Board (15th November 2013) The next five minutes (a transcript)


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A previous post on this blog deals with the first five minutes of the Improvement Board meeting. Since then over roughly a week since the video of the Improvement Board meeting was uploaded to Youtube, the first part of the meeting has been viewed nearly two hundred times at the time of writing! As there was such interest in it, I thought I’d continue with a transcript of the meeting, carrying on where I left off which was five minutes and twenty-four seconds in.

Joyce Redfearn (Chair, Improvement Board): We’re going to move on in terms of making sure we get through the questions. John Brace, are you present, yeah?

John Brace: As there are quite a lot of questions and they’re in here already, I’m quite happy with you reading them out if that would be speeding things up a bit.

Joyce Redfearn (Chair, Improvement Board): I think that’s really helpful of you and thank you for submitting it in advance, because people have the script in front of them and because it’s long, I won’t actually read it out as we did in one of the other sessions if that’s alright, but we will let you come back when we’ve given the answer, unlike the other sessions, in terms of if there are supplementary questions or points that you feel we didn’t cover from your email, ok? Thank you. Graham do you want to go?

Graham Burgess (Chief Executive, Wirral Council): Just in response to the first question which relates to a whole series of appendices to the AKA report, our view is that err all the appendices actually contain very sensitive personal information and to release those appendices would be in breach of data protection and also the duty we have to individuals who gave us information in confidence, or in relation to their own personal medical or financial circumstances. Therefore it’s our view that it would be inappropriate to release those documents as they contain a whole host of sensitive information. Clearly these matters can be tested, if you wish to test our view, via FOIs and the Information Commissioner, but so far our position has been and has not been challenged in respect of those appendices. It’s our view as you can see from some of them anyway, clearly showing they do contain very sensitive personal information.

Joyce Redfearn (Chair, Improvement Board): I think that was recognised within the question, certainly in terms of one of the appendices, thank you.

Cllr Jeff Green (Leader, Conservative Group): Yeah, can I just check when the Chief Executive said ‘we decided’ who the we were?

Graham Burgess (Chief Executive, Wirral Council): Well it’s the Council, I clearly represent the Council.

John Brace: Sorry, as I’m entitled to a supplementary on that. In relation to that list, I know that there were councillors present at that one and that was used as a justification that councillors had signed off on the special charging policy, so if you released it with the other names blacked out, wouldn’t that mean people could have at least a bit of accountability as to who the people were who agreed to that?

Graham Burgess (Chief Executive, Wirral Council): Can I also say Chair that with your agreement it would be the intention of the Council to print all these questions, place all these questions on our website and all the answers to them as well so it can be available for people who couldn’t make it at this meeting so they can see what we’re saying.

In respect of that, obviously this is a question that only came in at five o’clock last night which was reasonable and obviously your supplementary has just been asked now so I’d need to probably go away and take advice on that point and we’ll give you the answer both to you John personally and put the answer on the website for everybody to see and certainly Joyce and the Improvement Board will take that into account when they write the final report.

Joyce Redfearn (Chair, Improvement Board): So thank you, for that particular question, it’s really helpful. Do you want to keep on going in terms of the series of questions because we’ve got them in front of us?

Graham Burgess (Chief Executive, Wirral Council): The next question I think refers to the Martin Smith report and again our position is the Martin Smith report was redacted as it contained personal information and the Council has a legal obligation with regards to public disclosure of that information to the individuals mentioned in that report.

The Council’s responsibility extends not only to the public, but to any person or body to which the information relates, the Council considers every case on its merits and maintains its position that disclosure is not appropriate in these circumstances. Once again there are ways of challenging the Council, via the Information Commissioner another way if you think the Council is being unreasonable and the Council has and will always respond to the Information Commissioner’s ruling.

I would say however that perhaps the most important part of that report particularly is the recommendations around our whistle blowing, grievances and bullying policies, all of which have been progressed in line with that report and all of which is referred in response to critical incidents report that’s also considered by the Audit Committee last night.

Joyce Redfearn (Chair, Improvement Board): Thank you, is there anything further as you’re present that you want to ask? Move onto the councillors point which is in the next question.

Graham Burgess: Thank you, I’ll just stay standing up, shall I?

Joyce Redfearn (Chair, Improvement Board): Yeah, I think you should, you could keep your jacket off.

Graham Burgess (Chief Executive, Wirral Council): Again it’s a similar point that the Council does have responsibilities to the individuals named in these reports and this must be considered in relation to disclosure and redaction. Full disclosure of the Martin Smith report would in the Council’s opinion contravene its legal obligations under the Data Protection Act, with regards to upper management’s control of information in its possession.

Once again there are ways of challenging the Council independently if people have a different view and I would encourage people if they don’t agree with the Council’s position to challenge us and we will state our case to the Information Commissioner or any other relevant body. We believe as well as obligations to the public as a whole, we have obligations to individual members of staff, public, service users to protect their interests and that’s why we’re acting in this way.

If however, people think we’re wrong, then it’s worth challenging our position and we welcome people challenging our position. Thank you.

Member of public heckling: You’re wrong, you welcome challenges, you’re wrong. You’re far from being open and transparent and that’s ridiculous. I apologise to you all for that.

Graham Burgess (Chief Executive, Wirral Council): Can I just say?

Joyce Redfearn (Chair, Improvement Board): That’s your view, so I, what we will do is allow further questions and comments at the end and I understand that was a heartfelt, but we’ll go through the series if that’s ok with you.

Member of public who previously heckled: Apologies about the time you take on this decision.

Graham Burgess (Chief Executive, Wirral Council): Can I just say clearly if people think we are wrong, that’s perfectly right to challenge us and there are ways of processing those and it can be challenged independently and we welcome those challenges and if we are wrong of course we will publish the documents.


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Labour U-turn on filming of Wirral Council public meetings

Labour U-turn on filming of Wirral Council public meetings, a report on the second reading of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill including quotes from the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP and Hilary Benn MP on the subject of filming Council meetings

Labour U-turn on filming of Wirral Council public meetings


It’s rare I write a blog post on a Sunday but I thought it best to write an update about how the issue of filming of council meetings (at least in England) is progressing as it was discussed in the House of Commons on Monday 28th October as part of the second reading of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill.

I will quote from what MPs said in that debate along with my own comments on what was said. The quotes are from Hansard, you can also watch video footage of the debate on Parliament TV (the date was Monday 28th October 2013), but as the debate went on for many hours it can be difficult to find the parts about filming.

First to speak on this issue was the Minister for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP who said, “Perhaps our most significant proposal is to give people the right to film, blog or tweet at council meetings. Some councils would prefer meetings to be held behind closed doors, but the public has the right to see decisions being taken and how the money is spent.

A private Member’s Bill promoted by Mrs Thatcher introduced the right to attend council meetings back in 1960, and that in turn built on a law introduced by the Liberal Government of 1908, so this is truly a coalition of minds. It is right that we should now bring her legacy up to date for the digital age. We have previously amended secondary legislation to open up councils’ executive meetings and have encouraged councils to open up their full council and committees. Many have refused, however, citing health and safety, data protection or just standing orders. Tower Hamlets said that such a change would lead to “reputational damage”. Well, yes, it probably will when people see what is going on in their council chambers. There have even been cases of the police being called to threaten bloggers with arrest. We will therefore make the necessary changes to primary legislation to allow full councils and committees to be open as well.

Our argument is that the coalition Government are scrapping the top-down red tape of Whitehall inspection and micro-management. That will save taxpayers’ money and help to devolve power, but it must go hand in hand with local transparency and accountability. We must ensure an independent free press and scrutinise and challenge bad decisions by councils. Individual taxpayers and the new wave of citizen journalists must be let in to conduct their own scrutiny. We are localising audit and scrapping protection, while ensuring that there is protection against the bad old days of municipal corruption. In short, the Bill will deliver greater openness, stronger local democracy, accountability and significant savings for the taxpayer. I commend it to the House.”

My comments on what Eric Pickles said are that currently the public (and press) already have the right to film, blog and tweet at Wirral Council meetings already which is granted to them by article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Human Rights Act 1998 c.42. It is unlawful for any council to act in a way that is incompatible with article 10 (freedom of expression) due to section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher referred to by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP is the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 c.67. The secondary legislation referred to by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP is the more recent Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 (which at Wirral Council only applies to Cabinet meetings and decisions made by individual Cabinet Members).

“Many have refused, however, citing health and safety, data protection” seems to be a reference to Wirral Council, this tweet below of mine from June shows my frustration as both reasons were given in reference to a Planning Committee meeting, the same reasons (although apart from that one Planning Committee meeting not used together at the same meeting) have been given at other Wirral Council meetings in the past twelve months too. Wirral Council have never given standing orders as a reason as there isn’t anything in their current constitution (or past constitution) about it. Personally I’ve never been threatened with arrest or the police for trying to film a meeting, although in other parts of the UK people have.

Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said on the issue of filming, “We will therefore support that change, and also the proposal that councils in England should allow the recording and videoing of council and committee meetings. In this day and age, big changes in technology make recording and videoing readily possible, and I cannot see the difference between sitting in a meeting, listening and writing down what is being said, or—for those who have shorthand—taking a verbatim record, and making one’s own recording.

As the Secretary of State acknowledged, a new generation of bloggers is relating to politics in a different way, which we should all warmly welcome—frankly, the more people who get to hear what their local council is doing, the better. Who knows? Perhaps this House will one day follow suit and allow those watching us to keep their own records of proceedings—indeed, I may one day be tempted to record the Secretary of State from across the Dispatch Box. I have, however, a sneaking suspicion that Brass Crosby—who, as some Members will know, was committed to the Tower of London in the 1770s for daring as Lord Mayor to release a newspaper editor who had had the audacity to report what was happening in Parliament—and indeed Thomas Hansard, after whom the Official Report is named, would both thoroughly approve of that change.”

The reason why this would only apply to councils in England is because in the other parts of the UK (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) that it’s up to the Welsh Assembly Government, Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly to decide whether they want this sort of change. Hilary Benn is right that at the moment anyone could publish a verbatim account of Council meetings, the main difference between that and an audio recording is that an audio recording also records how something is said.

Video adds an extra element of body language though, not just of the person speaking but of the reaction of other politicians to what’s being said. Hilary Benn also went as far as to tweet about this (his tweet is below):

I welcome Hilary Benn’s tweet and Labour’s support for a change in the law to make things clearer to local councils. I have seen in the past Labour councillors criticise during a Council meeting one of the opposition councillor groups for taking a different policy position to that of their party nationally. I hope Wirral Labour councillors will take heed of the tweet of their frontbench spokesperson Hilary Benn on the matter.

The next stage in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill’s progress through the House of Commons is the Committee stage which was on November 4th at 4pm in Committee Room 13 at the Palace of Westminster (ironically for a bill with accountability in the title this stage is being held in private not public). I’m sure myself and many other bloggers in England will be keen to follow this bill and await the text of the amendments to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill in relation to filming with interest.

The tweet of Labour’s spokesperson nationally on this issue will hopefully prevent any attempts by Wirral Labour councillors at censorship of filming of Wirral Council meetings between now and when the bill becomes law, as if they do try to stop filming they will lay themselves open to the criticism they make of others in saying one thing nationally, but doing another at the local level.

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