Interest declaration: The author of this piece earns a living from blogging and filming.
Interest declaration: This is being published on a blog which’ll be affected by the new legislation.
Interest declaration: The author of this piece and editor is an NUJ member.
Yes this is a blog post on the important new The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012.
This comes into effect on the 10th September 2012 (in just under three weeks time at writing this).
Some of the changes it brings on Wirral Council (and its relationship with the press are welcomed) and I summarise below. I’m surprised this is the first I’ve heard of it though.
The definition of media (which currently basically covers print (newspapers and magazines) and broadcast (radio, TV etc)) is being broadened. It’ll be expanded so that new media reporters (Internet blogs, tweeting etc) will be covered by the current definition of who a journalist is.
There are a variety of changes which make it easier for individual councillors at Wirral Council (presumably the Lib Dem/Tory opposition) to challenge decisions made by the Labour Executive.
More transparency on various decisions taken by the Executive that affect more than one council ward, incur new significant spending or new savings.
Councils can no longer cite “political advice” as a reason to exclude the public.
If a meeting is due to be closed to the public, the council has to justify why it has to be closed and give 28 days notice of such a decision.
Some of the legislation on Forward Plans (brought it by the last Labour Government) is being changed.
Quote from Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP (the Conservative Government Minister):
“Every decision a council takes has a major impact on the lives of local people so it is crucial that whenever it takes a significant decision about local budgets that affect local communities whether it is in a full council meeting or in a unheard of sub-committee it has got to be taken in the full glare of all the press and any of the public.
Margaret Thatcher was first to pry open the doors of Town Hall transparency. Fifty years on we are modernising those pioneering principles so that every kind of modern journalists can go through those doors – be it from the daily reporter, the hyper-local news website or the armchair activist and concerned citizen blogger – councils can no longer continue to persist with a digital divide.”
Chris Taggart, of OpenlyLocal.com, which has long championed the need to open council business up to public scrutiny, added:
“In a world where hi-definition video cameras are under £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings.“
John Brace, Editor said,
“Nearly forty years after the Internet first came into existence, the rights of “citizen journalists” are being enshrined in legislation. Local authorities should not be frightened by the extra scrutiny and transparency this will bring.
As a professional working in this area I welcome some of the changes this will bring on my reporting of Wirral Council, Liverpool City Council (and other local authorities) and I wonder if it will also include other local political bodies such as Merseytravel, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and the soon to be abolished Merseyside Police Authority.
However the existing laws on relationships with the press (print, broadcast, new media and others) need to be adhered to by Wirral Council. The press and the unions such as the NUJ also need to make sure that Wirral Council will “move with the times” and adhere to the new laws and comply with both the spirit and the letter of the new legislation.”
I will be providing a further update to this post once I have had the opportunity to read the legislation and digest its implications in full.