Please take a look at a very recent example of Swale council’s idea of democracy.
At Standard Quay on Monday, planning officers and councillors announced – with no prior notice – that a public meeting would take place inside the developer’s building, rather than outside, on neutral ground. The puzzled public were then herded inside while a doorman employed by the developer searched their bags for cameras which were apparently banned. Then planning committee chairman Richard Barnicott refused to start the meeting if anyone filmed or recorded the meeting without a ‘permit’ from Swale Borough Council, professional videojournalists accredited by the British Association of Journalists apparently included.
Is this seedy scenario your idea of open government, accountability, transparency or inclusion? Or does it just make you wonder what on earth these people are so afraid of?
To help put things in a national context, Government minister Eric Pickles has been advising councils to actively encourage all meetings to be filmed, recorded and live-blogged since 2011. Most local authorities have done so and some even stream meetings on the web. Swale, for reasons known only to itself, has decided to remain in the dark ages by keeping us in the dark. This arrogant and archaic stance may prove ultimately self-defeating, since secrecy inevitably breeds suspicion. If voters don’t feel they can change the way their councillors behave, they might just decide to change their councillors.