Well I suppose I got that wrong. A week ago Elwyn Bryant opined to me he
thought that the proposal to allow filming at Bexley council meetings would go
through, and I reminded him that it was Bexley council we were dealing with and
in the past it hasn’t mattered how tight a corner they are driven into they will
concoct some implausible story to excuse their secretive and occasionally
criminal ways and more often than not will simply lie.
There was an average turn out for the meeting, just me, three members of the public and Tim MacFarlan from the News Shopper. You might be forgiven for thinking the only people who cared about the issues to be discussed were councillors, for never have I seen so many crowd the public benches.
Those I noted were Linda Bailey, Sybil Camsey, Alan Deadman, Geraldene Lucia-Hennis, Howard Marriner, Don Massey, Sharon Massey, Seán Newman, Philip Read, Melvin Seymour, Chris Taylor, John Wilkinson and Simon Windle. Several had brought along their spouses or partners. On the Panel were councillors Chris Ball, Colin Campbell, Peter Craske, Ross Downing, Teresa O’Neill and Peter Reader. Three senior council officers were in attendance.
The meeting was clearly rehearsed beforehand, at least in part, and the proof came early on. Council leader Teresa O’Neill sat at the head of the meeting room table and launched straight into Item 1 of the Agenda. Appointment of a Chairman. The assembled sycophants obediently elected O’Neill as Chairman and in under a minute she had rattled through the formalities until she got to Agenda Item 6, the main business of the evening, ‘Photography, Recording and Filming of Council, Executive and Committee Meetings’. The Chairman then read from a long written speech which was basically an extended version of what she had put on the Conservatives website earlier that day. Lucky it was Teresa who was elected or we may have had an off the cuff rambling speech from someone less well versed in the black arts.
The leader’s speech covered the obvious points that more and more people were using the website and expected to find everything council related there. She was however concerned about webcasting in that it required investment and whether people should be expected to pay for it when the facility might not be much used. All very reasonable.
After that Paul Moore the Director of Customer and Corporate Services had his say. He said he had “wanted to progress recording for over a year as it goes right to the core of democracy” which sounds more than a little hollow in the light of events during that year. Referring to the new Civic Centre he suggested that “the time might be right to test out different approaches”. His overall tone seemed to be heavily in favour of both webcasting and what was being called 3rd party recording. Presumably he realises more than most just how damaging something like the Cheryl Bacon fiasco is to the council‘s reputation.
The Chairman made a brief comment about how meeting chairman would always be able to “terminate it if it impedes a meeting” and then handed over to councillor Colin Campbell. There was not much doubt on what he thought of the proposal, he was wholly behind it. Campbell didn’t want to spend the money “£20,000 a year soon begins to add up” he said but thought it should probably be done none the less. Intriguingly he indicated that he new Council Chamber might not be big enough and CCTV to an overflow room might be necessary, but if webcasting proved to be a total waste of money it could be reviewed after six months. Sounds like sense.
Councillor Peter Reader said he could see some advantages for webcasting planning meetings which he chairs but he saw no need at all for any form of 3rd party recording. Councillor Ross Downing said he was right, there was no need for 3rd party recording at any meeting.
Councillor Craske said no one he had ever met had asked for webcasting and joked that “politics is show business for ugly people. It might be cheaper to courier out DVDs to the few people who would be interested”, however webcasting had his full support. “Personally I don’t have an issue with filming, that’s fine. Let’s crack on and get on with it”.
Councillor Chris Ball said his experiences still showed that “no one knows what we do; whatever we can do to show the complexity is money well spent. Most people haven’t got a clue. Definitely do webcasting.” He thought protocols should be drawn up about “cutting and pasting”.
Another of councillor Ball’s concerns was the need to protect junior officers but “members are fair game, a video will make no difference to me. We absolutely should agree photography etc. It is incumbent on us to make it successful.”
Councillor Campbell thought it might be best if webcasting was live only as that avoided any issue of manipulative editing. Ross Downing said that third parties must not edit but Peter Craske said all that need be done was to park a master copy on the council’s website. Peter Reader came back to say he really would prefer not to have third party filming. Then the councillors in the public gallery were invited to have their say, not members of the public of course.
Both Don Massey and Sharon Massey made it clear they were against 3rd party filming, Don in particular appearing to be somewhat paranoid about mischievous editing but went along with the idea of a trial period. Sharon was keen to preserve “a master copy, we need a record of what went on”. Funny she was never bothered about that before. Are we about to see an end to post-meeting lying?
Of the members of the panel, the chairman offered no opinion, but two out of five were against 3rd party filming. Of the other councillors who spoke, 100% were less than enthusiastic about it. It fell to councillors Campbell and Craske to propose and second the proposal that webcasting and 3rd party filming should be permitted and put before the full council for approval and that is what will happen. No one is likely to upset Teresa’s plans but there are indications that not everyone will be happy.