New era of transparency?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
9:00 AM

Campaigners have welcomed new rules they say will reveal the lack of openness and ‘puerile debate’ in council meetings.

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The ‘right to report’ laws came in to force last week.

This means that the public will be allowed to film, record and tweet live from council meetings, including Exmouth Town Council and East Devon District Council as well as all parish council meetings.

But while there is no legal requirement for the press or public to inform council staff of the intention to film of record prior to the meeting, the department of communities say they would ‘encourage people’ to contact staff in advance.

Campaigners the East Devon Alliance (EDA) and Save Our Sidmouth (SOS), as well as East Devon District Council (EDDC) all say that the new rules will make the decision making more transparent.

Richard Thurlow, chairman of SOS, said that they intend to take advantage of the new law ‘to its fullest extent’.

He added: “This is extremely helpful as it will enable the public to record public EDDC meetings and demonstrate the lack of openness, often childish and puerile debate and steamroller tactics used.”

EDA chairman Paul Arnott said that the changes represented an ‘overdue reform’ and would help to encourage democracy in local government.

He said: “This means that EDDC’s inadequate and even hostile replies to questions raised legitimately can be exposed to wider public scrutiny by council tax payers.

“Similarly, as open debates will be recorded by the public, councillors may decide to adopt a mature and courteous approach to each other and to the public.”

The rules apply to any public meeting held by town, parish, district and county councils and take effect immediately.

An EDDC spokesman said: “We live in a modern digital world where the use of modern communication methods such as filming and tweeting should be embraced for enhancing the openness and transparency of local government.”

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