Residents will soon have the right to attend and report on all council meetings involving budgets and local services, ministers have announced.
Under new regulations, which come into effect on 10 September, there will be a new presumption in favour of openness covering all meetings of a council’s executive – including committees and sub-committees.
Should councils wish to hold a closed meeting, political advice can no longer be cited as justification. Instead, councils must provide 28 days’ notice for meetings that will include the disclosure of confidential or exempt information.
To promote openness, local authorities are now also obliged to give members of the public who use social media tools, such as Twitter or hyper-local news forums, the same facilities afforded to accredited newspapers.
Communities minister, Eric Pickles, said council decisions on budgets and finances must be taken ‘in the full glare of all the press and any of the public.’
Chris Taggart from the campaign group OpenlyLocal.com, said: ‘In a world where high definition video cameras cost less than £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings.’
Responding to the announcement, Rob Dale, resident social media expert at the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) said: ‘Open data is good, but openness in the 'real', offline world, where citizens can see decisions being made and touch the notes being used to make them is vital to building lasting trust and understanding.
‘However, creating the legislation is the easy bit, now the Government, councils and everyone interested in democracy must show action to get more bums into all these soon to be accessible meetings.’
Hyper-local website owner, Philip John, said the announcement ‘is great news for local citizens, hyperlocal bloggers and community activists who are being given the recognition they deserve as upholders of local accountability’.
Mr John said: ‘Hopefully councils will take note and allow the public and media alike free reign to tweet, blog, record, film and generally report openly from public meetings. It would be disappointing if today's announcement was nothing more than a toothless declaration from DCLG that local authorities failed to use as a catalyst for increased openness.’