On 6th August Eric Pickles signed a Parliamentary order allowing press and public to film and digitally report from all public meetings of local government bodies. It is an update on Margaret Thatcher’s 1960 law allowing written reporting of council meetings.
We briefly spoke about the implications for local authorities in our last post but with the Scottish Referendum and debates around devolution firing up, webcasting decision making seems more valid than ever.
Some are asking if Scotland is to receive extra tax-raising and spending powers then shouldn’t this be offered to local authorities elsewhere. The London Finance Commission and the communities and local government select committee have detailed proposals for the devolution of council tax, business rates, stamp duty and fees and charges which have been welcomed on a cross-party basis throughout London and in the eight largest cities outside London and the city regions.
But I don’t think devolution is just about decision making at a more local level, it is about participation and engagement by those local communities in the process. The right to report offers communities the opportunity to more actively participate in the democratic process and webcasting is a tool for Councils to proactively encourage engagement.
Importantly councils own the copyright to the meetings that they stream and have the power to allow these resources to be used by others. Webcasts can become factually accurate digital assets for bloggers, journalists and residents. By keeping a ‘digital record’ of the whole meeting the council and others have a resource that can be used to fact-check other people’s version of events and shine a light on the important local decisions being made.
If devolution of powers throughout the UK helps empower the local authority then webcasting the decisions, with the tools to engage will help empower the local citizen.