Eric Pickles gets it right

Not quite what Liberal Democrats always says about Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, but his pronouncement this week about access to local government meetings was spot on.

His department’s press release says,

Councils should open up their public meetings to local news ‘bloggers’ and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said today.

To ensure all parts of the modern-day media are able to scrutinise Local Government, Mr Pickles believes councils should also open up public meetings to the ‘citizen journalist’ as well as the mainstream media, especially as important budget decisions are being made.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill has written to all councils urging greater openness and calling on them to adopt a modern day approach so that credible community or ‘hyper-local’ bloggers and online broadcasters get the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have.

The letter sent today reminds councils that local authority meetings are already open to the general public, which raises concerns about why in some cases bloggers and press have been barred.

For example Tameside Council has accredited professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter. The decision means local bloggers, the public and even councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not considered members of the press.

The point at which he praises Mrs Thatcher for opening up council meetings is also the point where my agreement wears a bit thinner. That’s because of the excellent campaigning by many Liberals, SDP and Liberal Democrat councillors to make local government more open. Not to mention the examples many have set in changing rules on their own councils. And not forgetting mention the Liberal Government’s Local Authorities (Admission of Press) Act of 1908). But on the basic point he,’s spot on.

Let’s hope too it helps put an end to absurd cases such as that of Green councillor Jason Kitcat who faced disciplinary action for putting footage of council meetings on YouTube.

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