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Bonkers Blog June 2013

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18 June (Part 3) - News Shopper reports that Bexley council defies Eric Pickles again

Mr. Easton (Head of Electoral and Members’ Services) is one of Bexley council’s good guys whose unfortunate lot is to be nanny, slave and general factotum to Bexley’s bad guys.

RE: Department for Communities and Local Government - Law changes

Dear Mr. Easton,

We exchanged emails under the above heading last Autumn following the law changes by Eric Pickles' department. I told you I was not interested in the continuous video or audio recording of public meetings advocated by Mr. Pickles but would like to take the occasional photograph.

Mr. Fox replied to my first email to you saying I would not be allowed to take a photograph at a meeting but to my surprise said the protocols did allow photography before a meeting started and I only had to forewarn yourself of my intention.

So I wrote to you explaining what I had in mind, and maybe it was over more than one email, but I said I would be happy with a wide angle shot, without the use of flash, from a position of your choosing and with you or a delegated substitute to review which if any photographs could be used. The proposal was tantamount to handing you the camera and telling you which button to press.

Mr. Fox, unreasonable as ever, replied on your behalf to say that despite the protocols to which he had referred me, he would not allow any photographs to be taken. I often think that Mr. Fox is on a personal mission to destroy any vestigial reputation that Bexley council might still retain and I should have reported him to the Ombudsman but sometimes the pressures of time preclude even the most obvious courses of action.

As you will know, the Communities Secretary returned to his theme last Friday and made it very clear that he expects councils, even disreputable ones, to open up their meetings to bloggers and the like and left little room for doubt on what was expected of them. I had planned to write to you to ask what Bexley council would be doing to ensure compliance but I see the News Shopper has beaten me to it. The newspaper's report is that the leadership of Bexley council remains defiant. I am afraid I am seeking a more specific and personal response.

I hereby formally request to be allowed to take photographs during any council meeting, (not video or audio; as already stated I have no use for that) in accordance with the recent instructions from central government.

I seek the council’s official response and reasoning to both that actual request, and separately, to audio/visual recording should I, or someone else, seek to make one.

Upon receipt of your reply it is likely that I will forward it to my MP with a request that she hands it personally to Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary. In the Spring of 2011 following Bexley council's decision to change its Constitution to counter government guidance she agreed to pass my complaint to Mr. Pickles personally and since Bexley council remains intent on maintaining its position among the country's least democratic, I have few doubts she will agree to act as messenger again.

Please accept my apologies for writing to you in a manner that is perhaps less friendly than we would both wish. Because this correspondence will likely be seen by others, and possibly misunderstood, I wish to fully acknowledge and place on the record that you have always treated me with the utmost respect and courtesy and do your best for residents in what I imagine to be difficult circumstances. No personal criticism of yourself is intended nor would it be justified. Nevertheless I must demand a comprehensive reply.

best regards,
Malcolm Knight


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