Battle to Film at Huntingdonshire District Council


Thursday, June 27th, 2013. 2:48am

I decided to observe Huntingdonshire District Council’s full council on Wednesday the 26th of June 2013. I was particularly interested in hearing the debate to be led by Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright who was scheduled to speak to the council and take questions from councillors.

Prior to attending I looked up the council’s rules on filming; and noted via Twitter that they appeared at odds with Minister Eric Pickles’ recent statements that the public have a right to record council meetings. Unexpectedly Minister Pickles responded to my tweet, to suggest the council’s rules had been superseded by his statements and the council’s demanded notice and permission to film were not required:

Following this tweet I decided to attempt to film the meeting to show Mr Pickles the reality faced by those seeking to film council meetings.

I left home after having had a good dinner; prepared for the possibility of arrest.

Eventually I was permitted to film, but only after having been requested to “dismantle” my camera, told by a council officer I would not be allowed to film, told repeatedly by the council chair Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington (Conservative) that she would not permit me to film and told by the council’s legal officer that that the police were going to be called. It was only after UKIP leader Cllr Peter Reeve “put a word in” that a decision appeared to be made that calling the police would not be required, and I was given permission to film.

I had to ignore the councillors, officers, and council chair’s statements that I would not be allowed to film and insist on the chair ruling, from the chair, if she objected to my filming and thought it disruptive. The chair while prepared to state privately directly to me she was not going to allow me to film, appeared unwilling to make such a draconian order in front of the full council, and decided to allow filming.

I am used to attending council meetings, and to taking personal risks in an attempt to defend, promote and participate in our representative democracy. I imagine that the kind of attitude displayed by councillors and officers at Huntingdonshire District Council towards filming creates a huge bar to many people who might want to take a photo, or record part of a debate of interest, either for their own use, for sharing with others, or to report back to their campaign group, residents association, parish council or other organisation.

Mr Pickles’ guidance for those observing and wishing to film council meetings does not advise readers they should be prepared for the police to be called, and the subsequent potential of arrest, if they seek to follow the advice he gives.

Timeline and Transcript of Exchanges Leading to Permission to Film

18:35 I arrived at Huntingdonshire District Council’s Pathfinder House, the meeting venue in plenty of time for the 19.00 start time. I briefly recorded a video outside stating why I’m attending the meeting, and that I intend to try and film following Minster Pickles’ encouragement.

18:40 I entered the chamber. There are no officers obviously present to welcome, direct and assist observers, but the location of the public seating was obvious (a raised area behind the councillors) so I went over to that area. I was carrying my camera in an overt manner, on a ~2m tripod.

18:41 I was approached by the council chair, Councillor Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington (Gransden and The Offords, Conservative) and the following exchange occurred:

Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Excuse me
Richard Taylor: Hello
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: I’m the chairman of the council. I’ve just come to see…
Richard Taylor: I think the question I’d like to ask you is: “What facilities have you got for citizen journalists?”
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Excuse me. Have you got permission? Where’s that come from? Have you just come here on your own?
Richard Taylor: I’m here just as an individual yes.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Well I don’t know whether you’ll be allowed to use that.
Richard Taylor: The reason I phrased the question as I just did: “What facilities have you got for citizen journalists?” is that’s the question Eric Pickles suggests people ask when they turn up at council meetings and the reason I’ve decided to film this evening, or to try … I’m aware of your constitution and your requirement for three days notice and permission of the chair but Eric Pickles tweeted me this morning and he said there’s no need for such notice and I should be OK to just come along and film the meeting.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: I don’t know. I’m going to consult with my elders.
Richard Taylor: By elders do you mean officers?
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Yes. I do.
Richard Taylor: Well the decision will be yours won’t it?
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Well I’m going to talk to the legal eagle, so don’t tell me what to do thank you.
Richard Taylor: I was clarifying what you meant by your elders.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Yes, well, that’s a phrase I used.
Richard Taylor: Thank you very much. One other thing; would it be possible for you to tell me where the police commissioner will be sitting [This was a request aimed at enabling me to choose a place to sit with a view of the Commissioner]
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: No. I won’t.
Richard Taylor: Is that because you’re being awkward or … ?
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: No I’m not being awkward.
Richard Taylor: You don’t know yet?
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: No. You’ll wait on my decision.

Shortly afterwards I was approached by another councillor, who by matching up to published photos, I think I’ve identified him as Colin Richard Hyams (Godmanchester, Conservative).

Councillor Colin Richard Hyams (Godmanchester, Conservative): Sorry could you disconnect it all please.
Richard Taylor: No. I’m going to wait for the chairman who has told me she will make a decision; so I’m going to wait for a decision from the chairman.

I was then approached a few minute later by the council’s Democratic Services Manager Christine Deller:

Democratic Services Manager Christine Deller: Our current constitution doesn’t allow… well allows for it only when the chairman gives permission.
Richard Taylor: I’m aware of the constitution and the three days notice however …
Democratic Services Manager Christine Deller: I know what you’re going to say, but that’s only just recently come in. It’s on one of our agendas to amend the constitution in July but that has not happened yet so we haven’t amended our constitution so we’re .. you’re not filming me are you?
Richard Taylor: Well absolutely because you’re the one who is trying to stop me filming. So what I think would be a sensible way forward is if I wait for the chairman to
Democratic Services Manager Christine Deller: Yes
Richard Taylor: to give the ruling and then of course I will comply with the ruling.
Democratic Services Manager Christine Deller: Thank you very much.
Richard Taylor: OK, thank you.

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright arrived, and was directed to a seat by the chair of the council, who appeared to know exactly where she was planning to seat him. The council chair then consulted with the council’s Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft. Mr Meadowcroft then came to speak to me in the public gallery:

Richard Taylor: Hello.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Hello there, I think you’ve already been spoken to, to suggest currently our constitution requires you to get…
Richard Taylor: I’m absolutely aware of that..
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: I know Mr Pickles has…
Richard Taylor: I drew it to the attention of him, and this morning he wrote me a tweet and said I don’t need such permission. So can I just ask who you are please?
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: I’m Colin Meadowcroft, Head of Legal and Democratic Services. We have raised the issue with our members and there’s going to be an item at the next .. well the relevant committee to deal with it. But in our constitution as it is now I’m afraid Mr Pickles can’t just override that.
Richard Taylor: Well I agree with you actually. I think that he needs to make a new law. The current situation of giving guidance is not sufficient, so I’d like to be able to show him what happens if I come to this meeting and try and film it. I’m particularly interested in the police and crime commissioner. I want to find out about his “ALERT” system, his new technology..
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: You’ll be able to listen to that of course.
Richard Taylor: The problem is, what I can’t do is really take action on it, I can’t put it back to the commissioner again, I can’t put it to my local councillors, to my MPs as easily as I can if I’ve got the footage to back up what I’m saying.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Well you can. They won’t doubt if you accurately record in either notes or whatever. I mean we’re not trying to be awkward here. As I said we are going to look at Mr Pickles’ proposal and as I’ve said I can show you, demonstrate the email I’ve sent round about it because it only came out earlier this week, and we’re going to take it through our normal channels. But as I’ve said under the current sort of proposals you haven’t got the necessary consent in our hands so we’re going to have to ask you not to do it and if you’re not I’m afraid we’ll presumably have to call the police and we don’t want to do that, that’s silly.
Richard Taylor: Well I’ll wait and see what happens. I’ve already said to the chairman of the meeting that I’ll wait and see what her ruling is.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Well I’m informally giving you her ruling.
Richard Taylor: Well I want to hear it from her of course, and if her ruling is that filming is disruptive then obviously she’s entitled to…
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Well it’s not necessarily disruptive, it doesn’t accord with…
Richard Taylor: Will you be advising her that she can throw out members of the public who are not disruptive?
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Oh no. No. No. No.
Richard Taylor: Well in that case we’ll wait until she rules it disruptive.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft:Well we’re not asking you to leave. I’m asking you not to record.
Richard Taylor: Well that’s one of the reasons I came here. I was aware of your constitution. I was advised by Mr Pickles that was no longer relevant, that he’s given his guidance, and I’m here to see what happens tonight and I’ll put that before Mr Pickles and other elected representatives and see what happens.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Fair enough.
Richard Taylor: Thank you.

Later on, a minute or two after the 7pm start time of the meeting the chair, Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington (Conservative) and Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft approached me together. The exchange was as follows:

Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: You will not be allowed to film any part of the meeting.
Richard Taylor: Thank you.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: You will not be allowed to.
Richard Taylor: I look forward to your ruling from the chair.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: You want me to say it when I’m in the chair? Well I shall say it first thing then.
Richard Taylor: You’re not in the chair? Sorry? (I have no idea how I was confused!).
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Well I’m not in the chair at the moment, I’m standing. I’m the chairman, but I’m not over there. If you’re not going to accept it from here, the decision will be the same.
Richard Taylor: Well the meeting is not underway yet.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Well I’m telling you that’s the decision. My decision. You’re not going to be allowed to film and you’re not going to be allowed to speak. (I’d never made any request to speak).
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Because you haven’t gone through the proper process.
Richard Taylor: I look forward to your ruling, and obviously if you deem me to be disruptive to the meeting I will of course…
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: You will not be disruptive to the meeting. You will not be speaking.
Richard Taylor: Well in which case there will be no problem then. Will there? If I’m not disruptive then as I understand it you have no grounds on which to eject a member of the public so I will be able to observe the meeting.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: You have not, as we’ve been through today, followed the rules we have in our constitution and that’s all we’re telling. So why are you being awkward about it?
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Please dismount your camera and you can sit in on the meeting and listen to it but please dismount your camera.
Richard Taylor: I’m not quite clear on what you’re requesting sorry?
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: I want you to dismantle your camera.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Because you’re not allowed to record without the consent, having gone through the proper process, and you haven’t done that. It’s a perfectly reasonable request.
Richard Taylor: The meeting hasn’t started yet so I’m quite happy to see what happens when the meeting starts.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: It’s not going to have any [difference], it’s down to the chairman.
Richard Taylor: Yes, and I’m very interested to see what the chair says, when the chair is in the chair.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: I’m going to ask you to dismantle your camera now. Please.
Richard Taylor: Well my response to that is I would like to see the ruling from the chair.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: Well you’ve got it from the chair.
Richard Taylor: Well it’s very different I think to have an individual come and tell me in person, than a ruling from the chair in front of the full council.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: As it stands at the minute you are not entitled to do that.
Richard Taylor: OK.
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Colin Meadowcroft: [To the council chair] What do we… I suppose we need to call the police in.
Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Yes, we are going to have to.
Richard Taylor: OK.

Cllr Peter Reeve appeared in the public gallery:

Richard Taylor: I’m here with Cllr Peter Reeve. Now the chair has just told me she’s going to call the police and the meeting is not going to start because I’m here and I want to film the meeting. And you’ve just called it ridiculous…
Cllr Peter Reeve (Ramsey, UK Independence Party): It is ridiculous, absolutely. It’s called public office for a reason this council should be fully accountable and certainly I would be expecting the chairman to put it to the meeting.
Richard Taylor: Yes. That’s exactly what I’ve just asked for.
Cllr Peter Reeve (Ramsey, UK Independence Party): For councillors, and I personally would be suggesting we allow it.
Richard Taylor: So my position, that I’d like to wait here until the ruling from the chair sitting in her place in front of the full council is reasonable?
Cllr Peter Reeve (Ramsey, UK Independence Party): Absolutely.
Richard Taylor: Thank you very much.

Shortly later Cllr Peter Reeve (UKIP) reappeared in the public gallery. Cllr Reeve let me know he’d “put a word in” and thought the police would no longer be required.

The meeting was opened just four or five minutes late. After prayers under the portrait of the queen the chair addressed the full council:

Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: We have a gentleman. Mr Taylor. As you can see sitting in the back of the civic suite who wants to film the evening…and speak

[I shook my head, I had made no request to speak]

He’s shaking his head. No speak.

Are you quite clear on that Mr Taylor? No speaking.

If you want to film the proceedings you will be allowed to do so but you must not film members of the public.

Do you understand that sir?

Do you understand that?

Richard Taylor: If you’re asking me to speak back: Yes.
I would like to film the Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright.

Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington:Well members of the public are sitting on the same row as you.

Richard Taylor: OK. Thank you.

Cllr Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington: Members of the public. Thank you

So members please be aware there’s a Mr Taylor in the back, on the back seats. Thank you.

See Also

56 comments/updates on “Battle to Film at Huntingdonshire District Council

  1. Morag

    Huge respect for standing your ground Richard. You were polite and clear throughout, while the chair is aggresive and just plain rude. These are public meetings, and the public are entitled to be there and record. It makes you wonder what they wan’t to cover up! Well done Sir ~ just hope more and more people take a stand too.

  2. Mike Ewart

    Local Authority Councils are creatures of statute and must abide by these powers and limitations. Unreasonable Council decisions can be subject to Judicial Review in Court.

  3. IAN-HOLT ROBERTS

    Richard full of admiration for you ,there are not enough people who have your determination and ability to exercise your rights .We in Keighley are having problems with the council ,we advised the council that we intended to film the next council meeting as per E PICKLES CONFIRMED IT IS OUR RIGHT,we have been advised by the town clerk that this will not be allowed.After noting your comments we will take great heart and review our course of action. If I may add I have just read your lines with the wife reading the others and we just fell about laughing at the way it transpired ,a script writer could not have done this any better. WELL DONE.

  4. Simon Mitchell

    Sir, I offer you my utmost respect and appreciation for the actions you have taken. I live in Australia and I am currently an active member of a group based in my town of birth -Keighley West Yorkshire (Cavetown Council Group). It is people like yourself and members of Cavetown and other such groups that are building the path which will one day lead to the term “Great” being justifiably used in the words Great Britain. A round of applause from the other side of the world is in no way adequate for your actions but I have just clapped heartily and with sincerity at your actions. Bravo Sir, Bravo!
    Regards
    Simon Mitchell

  5. Ed Hammond

    Richard, you’ll recall that the rules around recording were changing last year by the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, which apply to cabinet and cabinet committees only. For such committees recording is permitted and I’m quite surprised that councils are presumably having two separate systems in place – one, to comply with these regs and allow access to cabinet meetings to record, and another refusing access to record to other meetings. I presume that Hunts DC’s constitution makes such a distinction. If it doesn’t and purports to limit recording at *any* meeting the case could be made that it is in breach of its requirements under the regs irrespective of any more recent pronouncements from Mr. Pickles.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I can’t see anything in The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 which applies to filming. “Recording” in that context appears to relate to written records of decisions. As far as I’m aware there is no law permitting filming, just guidance to the public from Minister Pickles which says filming is permitted – that guidance is focused on cabinet and executive meetings.

      The Huntingdonshire District Council position in relation to meetings other than the full council is unclear. The filming rule is rule 17A of the council rules of procedure, and the constitution states:

      Council Rules of Procedure apply to meetings of full Council. Only Rules 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 (but not Rule 18.1) and 19 apply to the proceedings of the Cabinet, Overview and Scrutiny Panels, committees, panels, sub-committees and sub-groups.

      As rule 17A is omitted from the list, perhaps there are no filming rules applying to the cabinet/executive or committees? Or it may be 17A is considered part of rule 17?

    2. Ed Hammond

      Richard – I would say Regulation 4(6) provides this right – providing that any person wishing to make a “report” from a meeting should be afforded reasonable facilities to do so, which echoes the question you asked officers/members at the meeting itself. Taking this with the definition at the start of “newspapers” which includes (oddly) making sound and/or TV recordings for publication on the internet, I don’t think that this is an interpretation of the legislation which is particularly obtuse,

    3. Richard Taylor Article author

      To date as I understand it reasonable facilities to report from a meeting are too-date being interpreted as access to a payphone (I think there’s a regulation somewhere suggesting or requiring that). Access to a desk, power, WiFi, free movement to toilets or to take a break outside would be useful too (some meetings can be very long, and I’ve been in a number of public meetings where I’ve not been free to leave and return).

      Before we get to helpful “facilities” we need to tackle problems such as not deeming tweeting, or taking notes on a phone or tablet disruptive, and simply letting people record, tweet, video and photograph council meetings.

  6. Declan Cunningham

    This is one of the funniest but most significant videos I have seen in recent years. It is pure pantomime and I loved the Widow Twankey dame character with the gold chain of office. The exchange about whether she was in the chair or standing next to you could have been written by the late, great Ronnie Barker. Having banned you from speaking, she then snapped at you when you failed to answer her question. Great stuff.
    Your coolness under fire from this bunch of clowns should be an example to us all.
    The recent announcement from Eric Pickles opens the floodgates to proper scrutiny of local government after years of neglect by local newspapers who no longer have the staff to do the job properly. Useless councillors nationwide must be quaking in their boots at the prospect of their council chamber performances featuring on YouTube.

    1. Ste Greenall ( Huntingdon East )

      As a District Councillor who was at the meeting, I very much welcome the opening up of local democracy and Declan’s comment about local newspapers is true. That said, the News and Crier were there last night for the green bin debate and Sir Graham Bright. I am NOT afraid to appear on You Tube and hope that Richard and similar interested parties follow suit.

  7. D O'Donovan (Cambridge)

    This is a hilarious post Richard. Well done for standing up for democracy and public accountability, you’re a star.

  8. Jacqui Thompson (@caebrwyn)

    Well done.
    Eric Pickles recently attacked the Welsh Labour Government with regards to the problems members of the public face when attempting to filming Welsh Councils. He was more or less told to p*** off and mind his own business. Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Minister for Local Government, Pickles equivalent, refuses to require Welsh councils to open up at all.

  9. Paul Harvey

    Richard, well done.You stood your ground and the cowards backed down. What was most revealing was the obvious contempt the two Conservative councillors have for real local democracy and openness. Mrs Boddington should resign.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The Cambridge News has an article on my experience: Minister tells council to catch up with digital age after resident who tried to film meeting threatened with arrest. It quotes local government minister Brandon Lewis saying:

      Councils need to get with the fact that the public should be able to report, tweet and film public meetings.

      Despite it being a digital age, a small number of councils are still clinging to analogue interpretations of access rules.

      Councillors should be welcoming the attention and embrace the opportunity for the public to find out the good work they do.

  10. Jolyon Smith

    I applaud you actions. Government (National & Local) SHOULD be open to public review, and indeed criticism.

    The most disappointing thing is the way these elected members who (allegedly) represent the public believe they are able to call the shots and what they say goes.

    I have had the pleasure (ironic) of a diatribe from Cllr Colin Hyams when I had the audacity to criticise certain councillors (accepted Town in that instance) for being so arrogant and aloof that they considered my questions not worthy of reply, or even acknowledgement.

  11. william perrin

    Well done Richard – it’s vital to illustrate the yawning gulf between policy aspirations in Westminster and the reality of implementation on the ground. If I can be of any help just shout. Next time they will probably throw the data protection act at you.

  12. bob

    Priceless. For those of us who believe that democracy is “strained”, one only has to look at Cllr Boddington to realise that the many tiers of government we are forced to endure means that it is not alwys the most gifted who are elected. What a climb down. I look forward to seeing the footage of Sir Graham “I don’t keep my election promises” Bright.

    I guess it’s my own fault. As Plato pointed out “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

  13. Another Potential Filmer

    Oh well done Richard. Here in East Devon we have exactly the same problem! We will be attempting to film too …

  14. Richard Taylor Article author

    I was interviewed by Chris Mann on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s Drivetime Show:

    A full transcript has been published on “The New Listener”‘s website, the transcript begins:

    CHRIS MANN: Should council meetings be recorded and filmed? Well the local Government Secretary Eric Pickles thinks so, and he told people recently. But when a Cambridgeshire man tried to follow his guidance and film in a meeting at Huntingdon District Council, he was threatened with arrest. Thirty three year old journalist and campaigner Richard Taylor, who is from Cambridge, joins me in the studio now. Richard, hello.
    RICHARD TAYLOR: Good afternoon Chris.
    CHRIS MANN: So Eric Pickles told you personally?
    RICHARD TAYLOR: He did. He Tweeted in response to me. I asked if Huntingdonshire District Council’s rules were “Pickles-compliant” is how I put it, and he responded to me to say, yes, I could just go ahead, the rules were not, but his new guidance overrides those. And I could just turn up at the meeting and film it.

    More on “The New Listener”‘s website….

  15. Neil

    Great work Richard, well done for holding your nerve and your ground. These people seem to have forgotten (or be blatantly ignoring) that they are elected employees and are accountable to the public!

    Taking cameras in Magistrates Courts must also come soon, there are some absolutely abhorrent abuses of power going on across the country in those places too!

  16. Richard Taylor Article author

    My video, above, shows the sign asking mobile phones to be turned off. Turning off mobile phones would prevent many people, who use their phones for such purposes, from filming, tweeting and taking photographs.

    I’ve seen some journalists use a phone connected to a large keyboard even take notes and even file stories from public meetings; they too would be hindered by the mobile phones must be turned off rule.

    If the intention is that phones must be silent; that ought be more explicitly stated – it isn’t obvious and I’ve been in many places, eg. Magistrates Courts, where the use of phones, even silently, has been forbidden (I recently learned magistrates often, but inconsistently, forbid journalists using laptops too).

    I also note the copies of the meeting papers made available at the meeting to the public were marked “for information only – not to be taken away”; this does not help those seeking to report on the meeting; or those such as parish council reps or similar who might be at the meeting with a view to letting their members know what happened:

    Huntingdonshire District Council Agenda - Marked For information only - do not remove

  17. iusedtovotetory

    Eric Pickles informed local government back on 23rd February 2011, that councils should be open to filming and recording of meetings. It has taken 2.5 years and Hunts DC is still resisting changing the rules. To my mind HDC is a poorly run Council mainly because there is no real opposition. It is tardy on FOI requests and is always behind the flow especially over Government ideas. In the two previous years it hasn’t even been able to get its accounts signed off on time.

  18. Wrinkled Weasel

    A great piece of work; you appeared to remain polite and calm throughout.

    There is of course only one reason not to allow cameras in this kind of meeting and that is to avoid public scrutiny. I am astonished personally that the local worthies are not a bit more politically savvy. Perhaps they had to make a few phone calls and got given short shrift!

    A reminder (as if you needed it) that Lincoln declared at Gettysburg: “under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” Madam Chairman seemed to have forgotten why she is there.

  19. Elizabeth Mitchell

    Richard, as you know by now, a number of us attempted to film the Keighley Town council meeting last Thursday. We had already told the police and asked for advice a few days previously and to show them the guidelines etc.. They said if we didn’t cause a disturbance it was just a civil matter. We turned up, we filmed, we were told to stop, we produced our Eric Document, we continued quietly and respectfully. The meeting adjourned. It reconvened and we continued to film, again quietly and respectfully. The police were called, arrived and escorted 12 of us from the balcony, 10 of whom are over 60 one is 79. We asked if they would look at the Eric Document, they said emphatically ‘No!, the Mayor had called them as we were causing a disturbance under standing order 10, which relates to being offensive and obstructive.
    We were herded down two flights of steps by 9 Police Officers, I had to tell one of them behind me I couldn’t go any faster due to my arthritic hip. We were all cleared out, we went quietly and respectfully and maintained our dignity throughout. Relatives of council members had been ushered from the public gallery prior to the police arrival and were allowed to stay with other member invited guests within the chamber. A sad day for democracy and shameful day for Keighley Town Council. You can see our footage by joining our FaceBook Group http://www.facebook.com/groups/cavetown.council/
    Keepup the good work Richard and we will be attempting to film the next Finance Meeting on Wednesday 10 July.

  20. Richard Taylor Article author

    The video of the attempts to film Keighley Town Council on Thursday the 4th of July 2013 has been published. Prior to the meeting a councillor can be seen calling up to the gallery saying:

    There’s no law that say’s you’re allowed to film

    As the meeting starts the chair says:

    I’ll ask again, there is to be no recording or filming allowed in the chamber.

    It will be discussed and it will be voted on in September.

    The chair then asks those filming to stop. One responds: “I have the right to film according to the laws of this land”. The chair then proposes a motion, to ask those filming to leave, which is passed by the council. The chair then again asks those filming to leave, after they do not do so the chair states the police will be called.

    A further vote is called, on if how long the meeting ought be adjourned for.

    Personally I think the video editing, with the loud music over the top of proceedings makes it harder to follow. It may be to others’ taste though I suppose.

    Eric Pickles responded:

  21. Richard Taylor Article author

    Following this escapade I was interviewed on Huntingdon Community Radio; where we discussed openness and transparency in local government, the functioning of local democracy, and policing:

  22. Richard Taylor Article author

    Private Eye have reported on my experience, writing, in their Rotten Boroughs section:

    Blogger Richard Taylor was threatened with Knacker by Huntingdonshire district council chairperson Barbara Boddingdon on 26 June for declining to “dismantle” his camera. The surreal encounter can be viewed at http://www.rtaylor.co.uk (Cllr Boddington is the one with the chain and the amazing barnet).

    Buy the magazine for a roundup of how other councils have been obstructing citizen journalists.

  23. Steve Kimberley

    Richard
    The real affront to democracy is the secrecy of the new quangos the Government has set up Local Enterprise Partnerships between business and local councils which make decisions on how to spend millions of pounds of public money (European and local authority) but meet in secret with no members of the public allowed full stop
    http://www.humberlep.org/about-us/lep-board/humber-lep-meeting-minutes

    Read the above minutes of the Humber LEP for Jan 2012 Item 6 a leader of a local council specifically asks that the meetings be held in private which is unbelievable given the Chair starts off saying they have to be open and transparent!

    You might want to contact your local LEP in Cambridgeshire and see if you can attend meetings to observe and see what they say. Ive looked at their website but see nothing about this
    http://www.yourlocalenterprisepartnership.co.uk/

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      LEP board meetings are not public, the justification given includes:

      We have carefully considered our decision to hold LEP Board meetings in private. First and foremost, our LEP is business led, and a business approach to Board meetings is to hold them in private.

  24. Richard Taylor Article author

    The council’s Head of Legal and Democratic Services Colin Meadowcroft has produced a report on Filming and recording at council meetings in advance of a meeting of the council’s Corporate Governance Panel Wednesday, 24 July 2013 6:30 pm. The report notes Eric Pickes’ guidance “Your council’s cabinet: going to its meetings, seeing how it works” and states:

    Whilst the guidance relates to meetings of the Executive or Cabinet only, it would seem reasonable for any new Council Procedure Rule to be drafted to apply to all meetings held by the Council which are open to the public.

    The council proposes to add the following to its Council Proceedure rules:

    “Filming, Photography and Recording at Council Meetings
    The Council supports the principles of openness and transparency in its decision making and permits filming, recording and the taking of
    photographs at its meetings that are open to the public. It also welcomes the use of social networking and micro-blogging websites (such as Twitter and Facebook) to communicate with people about what is happening at meetings. The Council understands that some members of the public attending its meetings may not wish to be filmed. The Chairman of the meeting will facilitate this preference by ensuring that any such request not to be recorded is respected. These arrangements will operate in accordance with guidelines at Annex (vi). These Guidelines will be published on the Council’s website.”

    I think there needs to be clarification on if members of the public not merely attending, but participating, in meetings via public speaking slots, or in the way the Police and Crime Commissioner participated following an invitation to lead a debate are able to opt out of being filmed.

    The council is also not proposing to lift its ban on mobile phones being turned on in the chamber during meetings, which may well in practice make it hard for many to photograph, tweet, and film proceedings. The phone ban would in my view become contrary to the rules of procedure though if the rules formally welcomed the use of social networking sites during meetings.

    The report adds:

    To avoid any potential difficulty in the interim and should the Panel be minded to support the recommendation in paragraph 4.1 above, it is proposed that the Guidelines should operate informally pending their formal approval by the Council in September.

    There is no reference to the fact the council chair permitted filming at the Huntingdonshire District Council full council meeting on Wednesday the 26th of June 2013.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The proposed guidelines state:

      anyone proposing to film, record or take photographs of a formal meeting of the Council is requested to advise the Democratic Services Team before the start of the meeting and to provide their name and contact details.

      This is actually quite restrictive in practice as it means those observing are not free to take photographs or film when something interesting comes up; although I note it is only a request, and perhaps can be ignored.

      The odd restriction, which also features in Cambridgeshire County Council’s rules that permission to film may be terminated or suspended:

      when the Chairman considers that a defamatory statement has been made.

      This makes no sense. Why prevent recording of the meeting after such a statement has been made, and recorded?

      I would suggest that the filming rules are mentioned meeting agendas, and meeting chairs make clear as meetings start that filming/tweeting/photography etc. is permitted (personally I’d prefer “encouraged”).

    2. Richard Taylor Article author

      I have written to two councillor members of the committee, the Conservative chairman, and a Liberal Democrat member:

      Cllrs Baker and Butler,

      I am writing to you in advance of the meeting of the council’s Corporate Governance Panel on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 where you are to consider rules on filming, recording, photographing and live online reporting from council meetings.

      Personally I would be in favour of simply adding a statement to the rules saying filming, recording, photographing and live online reporting from council meetings is encouraged. This would be along the lines of the position taken by Cambridgeshire County Council.

      Rather than spend your time debating complex rules on how to restrict reporting from the council, I would prefer it if you were discussing things which make it easier, such as access to desks, power, WiFi, and reviewing the council’s bans on members of the public taking meeting papers away with them and having their mobile phones turned on during proceedings. I note other councils actively welcome members of the public, and provide seating plans, photos of members etc. to aid following and reporting on proceedings.

      Having read the proposed complex new rules and guidance being put before your committee I have the following comments:

      1. There needs to be clarification on if members of the public not merely attending, but participating, in meetings via public speaking opportunities and similar are able to opt out of being filmed. What about those such as the Police and Crime Commissioner, and other invitees, are they regarded as members of the public and free to opt out of being filmed?
      2. My view is that in all but very rare and exceptional circumstances members of the public speaking at public meetings ought be to be filmed and photographed; after all what they say may be written down and may appear in the media – this happens quite often. Generally I’ve found members of the public speaking at council meetings are keen to get their point across to as many people as possible and want to be filmed/photographed/recorded.

        Members of the public walking in to a council meeting may be filmed by anyone; I don’t see why the council chamber as a whole (or meeting room) cannot be considered a public space where everyone entering it can expect to be filmed and recorded.

      3. I note as I entered the chamber to observe the Huntingdonshire District Council full council meeting on Wednesday the 26th of June 2013 there was a sign saying mobile phones must be turned off. Many people use their phones to photograph, report, note-take, and film and requiring them to be turned off sets the bar for such reporting high and out of the reach of many who don’t have dedicated equipment. Perhaps the intent of the sign is to require phones to be placed in silent mode, in which case it ought be modified.
      4. Having had a council chair rule (in Wisbech Town Council) that silent tweeting from a meeting was “disruptive” I suggest making clear in the rules of procedure that the mere act of tweeting, filming, photographing or reporting of a meeting cannot be deemed disruptive by a meeting chair.
      5. The proposed guidelines state:
        “The Chairman may direct that audio/visual recording or photography must only take place from a specific location in the meeting room.”

        This is open to abuse by the chair, and may be used to prevent usable footage being obtained. One way I have experienced such a direction being abused, at Cambridge City Council, is requiring the filming to take place from one location and members of the public to sit in another – preventing those filming from accessing their equipment to pan the camera, start and stop recording, change batteries etc.

      6. Terminating or suspending filming “when the Chairman considers that a defamatory statement has been made” makes no sense, why stop filming after such a statement has been made, and recorded and just prevent recording of subsequent proceedings?
      7. The proposed guidance states:
        “anyone proposing to film, record or take photographs of a formal meeting of the Council is requested to advise the Democratic Services Team before the start of the meeting and to provide their name and contact details.”

        This is only a request, so can presumably be ignored, but I oppose requiring those wishing to observe and report on a meeting being asked to provide their name and contact details. It’s not clear for what purpose that information would be collected and held.

      8. Any requirement to notify the council of an intent to film/photograph etc. prior to the meeting is actually quite restrictive in practice as it means those observing are not free to take photographs or film when something interesting comes up; although I note it is only a request, and perhaps can be ignored. I think that if the council adopted formal guidance which could be ignored it would unnecessarily complicate the position.
      9. Consider the position where one councillor, member of the public, or officer is taking photos or film in a council meeting – ought this mean all others present are free to do so without themselves explicitly notifying the chair?
      10. There is no reference to the fact the council chair permitted filming at the Huntingdonshire District Council full council meeting on Wednesday the 26th of June 2013. There is little point in complex rules of procedure if meeting chairs are going to ignore them.
      11. I suggest that the filming etc. rules are briefly described on meeting agendas to raise awareness of them.

      I have written about my experience attempting to film at Huntingdonshire District Council at:

      http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/battle-to-film-huntingdonshire-district-council.html

      Regards,

      Richard Taylor
      Cambridge
      http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

      I note there are no contact details provided for the two representatives of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (“Hayley” and “Clive”) listed as committee members.

  25. David

    If a mobile phone is being used to Tweet rather than make or receive calls, is it still a phone? If a larger mobile device is being used to Tweet and it is then used to make or receive a call over the internet through Skype, does it become a phone?

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      At Cambridge Magistrates court a clerk has stated there is a rule phones must be turned off, whatever they are being used for.

      As many reporters now take notes on a phone (using a keyboard and phone rather than a laptop is increasingly common) this can be quite disruptive to the process of reporting.

  26. Richard Taylor Article author

    A report to Huntingdonshire District Council’s Full Council on the 25th of September 2013 has been published, in relation to filming and tweeting meetings it states:

    … changes recommended have arisen as a result of new guidance produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government in June 2013…

    In discussing the amendment, Members’ attention was drawn to the circumstances surrounding the filming of the Council meeting in June 2013 by a member of the public. The Panel had regard to correspondence sent from the individual involved on the proposed variation.

    The Panel recognised that some members of the public attending meetings may not wish to be filmed. At the same time, the Panel felt that those making representations would normally expect to be filmed. They discussed the circumstances in which termination or suspension of filming might occur. The Panel felt that there would be no benefit in halting filming after a defamatory statement had already been made. It was suggested that future training for Chairman be adapted to including dealing with such situations.

    Members supported a proposal that the Chairman should have the power to require filming to take place from a specific location or locations in appropriate circumstances.

    The Panel was of the view that it would be preferable for any one proposing to film, record or take photographs of a meeting to
    advise the Democratic Services Team in advance of the meeting and to provide their name and contact details.

    Members discussed also the importance of communicating the rules for filming on agendas, the use of mobile phones at meetings and the definition of a public place. In discussing whether Members of a Panel/Committee should expressly be prohibited from texting or tweeting during a meeting, Members considered that such actions would not be appropriate. However, it was agreed that this should be left to the common sense of individual Members and controlled if necessary by the Chairman

    The committee has recommended the full council approve the following:

    that the wording in paragraph 17A of the Council Procedure Rules be deleted and replaced with the
    following:-
    “Filming, Photography and Recording at Council Meetings

    The Council supports the principles of openness and transparency in its decision making and permits filming, recording and the taking of photographs at its meetings that are open to the public. It also welcomes the use of social networking and micro-blogging websites (such as Twitter and Facebook) to communicate with people about what is happening at meetings. The Council understands that some members of the public attending its meetings may not wish to be filmed. The Chairman of the meeting will facilitate this preference by ensuring that any such request not to be recorded is respected. These arrangements will operate in accordance with guidelines at Annex (vi). These Guidelines will be published on the Council’s website.

    The copy of Annex vi being presented the full council does not appear to have been amended following the committee’s deliberations, it still for example refers to suspension of filming when the Chairman considers that a defamatory statement has been made.

    It isn’t clear if the full council is being asked to accept the annex, or just the recommendation which refers to the guidelines in the annex. Presumably as merely “guidelines” the annex can be ignored and reference made to the encouraging statement,

    The Council supports the principles of openness and transparency in its decision making and permits filming, recording and the taking of photographs

    in the recommendation.

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