Deputy Mayor Councillor Georgina Hill’s full statement at Berwick Town Council’s extraordinary general meeting on Monday December 3, 2103.
Mr Mayor I’d like to exercise my right to make a statement in the open session as I am not planning to participate in Item 6 on the Agenda.
I want to state categorically that my crusade is for greater openness and transparency, to ensure that all aspects of our decision making inspire public confidence and to bring us into line with the most current legislation and best practice.
The current definition of Openess being; “Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there is a clear and lawful reason for doing so”.
I first raised the issue of openness and transparency, when a decision was made to discuss and approve changes to the management of the Portas pilot in a closed session of the Finance Committee. Following the Full Council meeting of the 23rd September there has been complaints and actions proposed, firstly against me. Subsequently I have come to the conclusion that the Council cannot possibly move on in a positive way until all these issues are independently assessed. As I have continued to ask questions and scrutinize matters within the Council I have had to endure increasingly, unpleasant personal attacks and seen various attempts to discuss, mediate and move to independent investigation thwarted.
The Localism Act 2011 and subsequent legislation has done away with much of the legislation which our old Codes and Orders were based on. As a Council we must now work together to ensure that all our codes and practices are based around the Nolan 7 principles of public life. These are Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. The purpose of these changes, as stated by DCLG are thus and I quote:
“By releasing councils from the old regime of prescriptive uniform codes, councils will be able to ensure that their own codes encourage freedom of speech and cannot be used to silence or discourage conscientious councillors from whistle blowing on misconduct”.
Similarly our current Standing Orders prohibit filming by the public in Council Meetings when guidelines have suggested we actively encourage this and other activities like tweeting. A Bill is currently going through Parliament to make this a legal requirement. This will only apply directly to principal authorities but I will be campaigning to have this effected within Berwick Council, to open up our meetings. Public and press participation and press freedom are the great safeguards within a democracy, they help ensure transparency…
To conclude, Cllrs may ask why Cllr Jones is trying to hobble democracy and open processes in his proposal? There is something deeply disturbing in what we are witnessing, where Grievance procedures, Committee structure, membership and powers are being shaped on the hoof and in response to pending cases. I implore my fellow Councillors to utterly reject this dark and suppressive proposal.
I personally will continue to campaign for greater transparency, greater access and higher standards.
Legislation: 1. Localism Act 2011 and subsequent. Re Codes of Conduct, Standards etc, Grievances
2. The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 – Filming Tweeting and Access of Public to all Council Meetings authorized in Secondary Legislation amendment.
3. Local Audit and Accountability Bill [HL] 2013-14 Statutory Provision Making Filming etc Mandatory.