Councillors unanimously turn down request to record Leeds council meeting

civic_hall_fullCouncillors in Leeds today refused a request from a local blogger to record a public council meeting.

The request – not to film, but just to record the audio – was put to a meeting of one of Leeds City Council’s watchdog scrutiny committees by its Labour chair, and unanimously turned down by the councillors present.

No information was given to the councillors about why the request was being made. No opportunity was given to the blogger to explain the request, and none of the councillors were interested enough to ask what it was all about.

“Nobody can bring a recording device into the meeting,” was the blunt contribution of one Labour councillor, who clearly felt no need to explain why that was the case.

“If the blogger wants a recording, we’ll provide him with one,” was the view of another, who clearly failed to grasp that the same words would be recorded on both, the only difference being that one would be available immediately, the other at the council’s whim.

No councillor spoke in favour of allowing the meeting to be recorded.

No debate

Pickles: public should be allowed to film and record

Pickles: public should be allowed to film and record

There was, in fact, no debate.

Not even when the chair told the meeting that Secretary of State for local government Eric Pickles had recently issued new guidance for local authorities stating that councils SHOULD allow their public meetings to be reported live via social media and recorded, including on film.

The information fell on deaf ears.

Maybe they think the guidance doesn’t involve Leeds. Or maybe they’re choosing to ignore it because it comes from London. From Pickles. Either way, they weren’t reacting.

Why was the request made?

Always be polite, my mum told me

Always be polite, my mum told me

Six weeks ago I wrote to the leader of the council, Cllr Keith Wakefield, asking to be allowed to record the audio of council meetings that are open to the public.

To tell the truth I ASKED because my mum told me to always be polite, even though I believe it’s my RIGHT to record.

Here’s what I asked him:

“I am writing to you in your capacities of chair of the General Purposes Committee and Leader of the council to ask whether I can record the audio of council meetings that I attend on my phone or tablet.

“Given the DCLG guide on the reporting of council meetings issued this week (see ref to Pickles above), the welcome introduction of tweeting from meetings by LCC councillors, and the very positive steps towards regular webcasting being discussed at General Purposes this week, I would ask that the council allow (informally if there needs to be a subsequent change to the constitution) journalists or bloggers like myself to record the audio of council meetings that are open to the public.

“Having a recording of the meeting would allow me (and others like me who don’t have shorthand) to report proceedings much more fully and accurately, mostly by being able to give verbatim quotes of contributions from councillors, officers and other attendees/witnesses.

“I realise that any act of recording would have to be unobtrusive and cause no disruption to the meeting. Perhaps a space could be found on one of the tables in the committee rooms where recording devices (usually a phone or tablet) could be left switched on but silent, much like is done at press conferences?

“Having the facility would serve as a very useful stop-gap while we await what I hope will be the eventual webcasting of all public meetings held in the main committee rooms. It would also go some way to opening up the reporting of council business to a wider variety of media – too often if the YEP isn’t at a meeting, it doesn’t get reported.

“I should add that all the efforts under way by the council to embrace social media and open up its business to new channels of communication with us citizens are genuinely welcomed.

“I look forward to hearing from you”

Told you it was polite. I may have looked forward to hearing back, but there was no response.

Citizen engagement? LOL

Fine words: "changing the relationship between the citizen and the state"

Fine words: “changing the relationship between the citizen and the state”

Now I’m not the confrontational type, so, given the silence from above, I wrote to the chair of today’s meeting at the end of last week, telling him I was going to record today’s meeting. I thought it was the courteous thing to do.

I even went prepared with a little script, thinking (innocent fool that I am) that he’d want my arguments (detailed above) to be put to the councillors at the meeting.

As if …

What’s really dispiriting is that, for all the fine words from the council’s leaders about a bright future of more “citizen engagement”, participation and transparency, today’s performance is a sobering reminder of the REALITY of Leeds councillors’ attitude to those issues.   

They just don’t get it.

Over the weekend it emerged that the council is drafting a new policy on such matters as tweeting from meetings and recording them. But until that policy sees the light of day it is down to the members of council committees and boards (like today’s) to decide what should happen on a case by case basis.

On today’s evidence that’s bad news for democracy in Leeds.

I’m not the confrontational type, but it’s getting beyond a joke. Next time I turn up at a council meeting with my tablet they’ll probably have to eject me.

(Was your local councillor one of those at the meeting? Click here to find out)

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25 Responses to Councillors unanimously turn down request to record Leeds council meeting

  1. Lester says:

    As a totally apathetic member of Leeds’ civil polity I can offer little more than a pat on the back for your stand against these illiberal, backward-thinking clowns. I’m glad there are people out there like you willing to actually do something to hold power to account. Cheers, man.

  2. Maud. says:

    mobile devices interfere with the hearing loop that allows deaf members of the public and at least one deaf councillor to use hearing aids in the civic hallmeeting rooms. that’s why they have to be turned off.

    • Hany says:

      So how come the devices that LCC Councillors are tweeting from don’t interfere with the loop? I’d take this excuse with a rather large pinch of salt if I were you.

    • Odd then that no councillor mentioned that this morning. Not convinced anyway. This is the 21st century. In this day and age there’s always an easy technical solution.

  3. johnpopham says:

    I thought Leeds was now live streaming meetings? If so, it is relatively straightforward to capture the audio from the live stream

  4. abureacrat says:

    It’s really difficult for an organisation like ours to be both accessible and accountable. It’s a shame that our Councillors aren’t doing everything they can to make it easier for those that can understand the decision making framework and report on it.

    • Mike Chitty says:

      Who is it you are struggling to be accountable too?

      • once elected, no one! that’s the policy of party politics. In a peoples republic we will not have political parties, to corrupt them in to serving their business friends. When these Councillors die, it is amazing how much wealth they have accumulated in their bank Accounts; many of them I have known never had two Penney’s to rub together, and on death, they have left a quarter to half a million pounds. Where does this wealth come from?

  5. Bryan says:

    This just beggars belief. The people at that meeting are there to represent their constituents – why would they have any fear that those they represent would actually hear what is being said on their behalf? What have they got to hide?

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  9. Roy - Harehills says:

    This blog was featured on the Guardian website. Will the increased publicity, naming and shaming change the Councillors’ minds? If only they had shame, or minds.

  10. Steve Williamson says:

    Madness…

    If everyone commenting here writes to their local councillors asking for a response as to why this request was refused and why there was no answer to the original request to Cllr Wakefield perhaps we may exert some influence or get some answers…

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  13. How do the general public, read these written records of meetings, and how do we know if they are a true record. The public own this City, and not the corrupt Labour Party, it is our Council tax that pay them and keep the City running. Wakefield and the CEO should now be charged with “Criminal Malfeasance in public office”, has do the elected Councillors. These people are no better then the corrupt Eaton Nazi Tory party that is running our corrupt government; should Labour ever get control, there will be no change in power, it shows it here in Leeds, “New Labour, Old Tory, Same Nazis”!.

    • Don’t think the references to Nazis are appropriate or useful. My mum’s family fled the real Nazis.

      • My dad, his brothers and his farther went to war for your family! Winston Churchill put these Eaton Nazis in Jail, back in 1940; history now knows he was wrong to do that, he should have executed them. I note that you did not flee the (real) Nazis did you, but got the full benefits that my family never did for that war. So clime down of your high horse. I also spent 22 years defending my countries democracy, and bleeding for it, did you?

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