Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Civic Affairs Committee

The fight for transparent local government was taken up yesterday evening at Cambridge City Council's Civic Affairs Committee.

I had sought and been granted permission to film the committee meeting. Thank you to the committee chairman, Cllr Boyce.

Cambridge City Council Civic Affairs 15 November 2010 from Andrew Bower on Vimeo.

The main business of the meeting was agreeing the calendar for the year's council meetings and the outcome of a review of polling district boundaries. Top psephologist Cllr Colin Rosenstiel was in his element at this point, although fortunately we were spared a treatise on the single transferrable vote. The polling district boundary review is important to ensure that it is convenient for everyone to vote and that excessive queueing leading to people not being able to cast their votes is avoided. Some changes were agreed.

There are also knock-on implications for candidates' tellers when overlapping sets of polling numbers are in use at the same building but the chief executive made it clear that she would only consider the impact on voters, even though tellers play an important role in increasing turnout at elections.

The interesting part of the meeting, however, was a public question from Cambridge resident Richard Taylor. Mr Taylor had been influential in getting a recording protocol put in place at the city council and sought to ask why he had been singled out in being banned from filming meetings while a complaint against the council was being investigated and to offer some insights into the restrictive nature of the agreed filming protocol and how that is likely to put off broadcasters and other journalists from participating.

I fully support Mr Taylor's campaign for openness and transparency in the way that the proceedings of meetings are recorded. As he points out, the minutes often omit key factors in deliberations such as which councillor said what.

I also believe that members of the public who seek to influence public policy by addressing such meetings should be accountable for their contribution; if they wish to raise a confidential concern that can be done directly with their councillor but the determination of policy ought to be public. However, as with Mr Taylor, I was of course willing to take all direction given by the chairman of the meeting. In this case I was allowed to film public questions although Cllr Boyce kindly advised me not to for the sake of not being dragged through the courts by members of the public. As the only public speaker Mr Taylor indicated his willingness to be recorded, although having agreed a position for the camera in advance I didn't have an opportunity to pan to capture Mr Taylor's contribution visibly.

The Chief Executive's answers to Mr Taylor were not entirely satisfactory and the ruling Lib Dems had little to say on the matter although he was supported by helpful contributions from opposition councillors.

I hope that we will see more meetings recorded in future - turning up to long meetings to hear individual items is a time consuming occupation so we should find ways such as this to increase participation in local politics.

Also available: Higher bitrate Flash video download (Main - 449MB) (End - 49MB)

1 comment:

Richard Taylor said...

Thanks for filming this and getting it online.

I've written an article on the meeting at: