Filming meetings to be decided on demand

The council chamber at Wigan town hall
The council chamber at Wigan town hall

CAMERAS could be allowed in Wigan’s council chamber for the first time but the local authority is to assess if it will make its own recordings.

Local government minister Eric Pickles MP is to introduce legislation giving people the right to report, film, blog and tweet from council proceedings.

Although the public and press can attend council meetings, any type of digital recordings have been prohibited to date.

At recent meetings at Wigan’s council chamber, attendees have been warned that any such recordings must be handed over to the chief executive and destroyed for contravening the local authority’s constitution.

Mr Pickles said the change would “unlock the mysteries of local government, making it more transparent for all.”

A council spokesman told the Evening Post that the public would be consulted on whether the local authority will provide live streams.

They said: “Cabinet members recently agreed to a consultation with residents to determine the demand for council meetings to be filmed and streamed live online.

“Members discussed the likely public demand for this facility, considering that meetings such as full council and cabinet are already open to the public and media to attend if they wish, and current attendance rates are very low.

“The cost of providing this facility is significant, and the money to fund it would have to be taken from another area. The consultation will be conducted through a citizens’ panel.”

The Evening Post started tweeting live from the council chamber during meetings last year. Recordings of meetings of the full council have been long called for by Standish independent representative Coun Gareth Fairhurst, who tabled a motion calling for it to be introduced earlier this year.

He said: “This is something that I have championed for many years. The cost of recording every meeting could be as low as £12,500, for the system for the council to run on their website.

“I hope that the council sees sense and comes into the 21st century. If they don’t, this new law allows the press and public to do it. Either way the public wins by being allowed to hear and see what their councillors are doing for them.”

The new law will be part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill that was discussed in the House of Commons last week.

The council spokesman added: “We already endeavour to share information with residents by publishing agendas and minutes from these meetings.

“Council officers have also begun sharing information in real time using social media by tweeting from full council.”

Mr Pickles said: “This will be the key to helping bloggers and tweeters, as well as journalists, to unlocking the mysteries of local government and making it more transparent. My department is standing up for press freedom.”