I agree with Eric


I'm as shocked as you are

Hold onto your seats and don’t adjust your screens, I am about to say words I didn’t ever expect to say.

I agree with Eric Pickles.

Not generally of course, but recently he has decided to attack local government in a new (and seemingly random as ever) way, this time under the mantle of transparency and openness.  Yes, the Pickleator has written to local government and told them that bloggers should have the same rights as the accredited press.

So that I don’t misquote him, here is the message he sent out:

Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.  Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year’s budget this is more important than ever.

And he stressed, “Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny. The greater powers and freedoms that we are giving local councils must be accompanied by stronger local accountability.  We are in the digital age and this analogue interpretation of the press access rules is holding back a new wave of local scrutiny, accountability and armchair auditors.”

Who would have thought it?  The man who appears to have a mission to alienate every public sector worker is actually saying something that some of us agree with.  Not all of course, there will still be those who feel that not just bloggers should be barred from public meetings but that all press should, but there is an ever growing army of those who want to see more transparency than ever before.

This doesn’t come without problems to be addressed of course.  Some of what is discussed at certain meetings may be confidential or sensitive information, although of course this gets leaked easily enough anyway as it is.  There is also a limited number of spaces available for members of the public at many council venues, what happens when all of these are taken up with bloggers and amateur journalists?

And of course, how will this affect those journos?  What possible role will there be for them when others are doing their job but for free?  They may have a slightly nicer writing style and a built in readership through their parent publication, but blogging is rapidly becoming a way more and more people get their news anyway, as well as getting their social commentary from the same sources.

These are minor issues though, and ones that perhaps aren’t for local government to worry about.  The best result for open government is that the correct information goes out to as many people in as many ways as possible.  If this is through ‘official’ channels all well and good, but if this is through non-controlled ones the world will not come to an end.

In any case, most of the real work is done outside of proper council meetings anyway.  What issue is debated for the first time in council chambers that hasn’t already gone through weeks or months of discussions and backroom arguments?  Opening meetings up will do nothing other than mean more people will have the opportunity to share what the council is planning.

There is no guarantee that this offer will be taken up of course.  Bloggers have no requirement to attend and often have other commitments.  They should not be used as a key way of getting information out there as there is no way for a council to make them write about developments (and nor should there be).  However, with the option there people will be able to should they want to, and that is what counts.

Realistically I can’t see the audience seats suddenly filled with people holding handheld video cameras, with laptops burning their laps whilst they tweet with abandon.  What I can see are a small number of interested people coming along more often than they currently do and providing an independent commentary of proceedings.

Please don’t take this phrase out of context, but well done Eric Pickles.

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6 Comments on “I agree with Eric”

  1. Roger White Says:

    As always, thoughtful stuff from WLLG. Two separate thoughts.

    1. In many areas of the country the issue is not bloggers supplementing or providing additional coverage/viewpoints to journalists but the fact that(tabloid shock horror dramas apart)local media have ceased to provide *any* coverage of council meetings (bar recycled press releases). So to that extent, a welcome move (for England only of course where the Picklemeister’s remit for LG runs).

    2. But…there’s always a but. Doesn’t this highlight yet again the contradiction between localism/letting go and that perennial temptation to micro-manage all ministers are prone to?

  2. Big K Says:

    I can’t believe that many council’s ban ‘bloggers’ from public meetings. If a meeting is in public anyone can attend and the only bans I am aware off are for individuals who have previously committed some kind of disrubtive act.

    Where I suspect there might be more problems is with filming. I asked the question in my council and the answer seems to be that this would be up to the Chair of the meeting as no formal rules exist either way. This doesn’t seem particularly satisfactory and is an area where we could be more proactive.

  3. LG Worker Says:

    Except for the big meetings, I’ve been to lots of public meetings (in different councils and of different things) were there is no one but Cllrs and Officers. A blogger would be nice.


  4. […] WLLG we always try to offer a balanced opinion on things (even agreeing with E-Pick on the odd occasion), so it’s about time we dealt with another side of the local government coin; […]


  5. […] And it’s not just the media which we like to have a good rant about either.  When a ‘colleague’ took credit for another’s work we felt justified in making a point, although it didn’t appear to get through as we had to return to them later.  Even our DCLG masters have felt content to stick their boot in, from Grant Shapps to Eric Pickles himself.  We don’t always disagree with Mr Pickles however, and will pay him his dues when we think he’s got something right. […]


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