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Email correspondence with Paul Moore

Director of Customer and Corporate Services London Borough of Bexley

Request to take a photograph at a council meeting


From: Malcolm Knight
Sent: 18 June 2013 16:54
To: Easton, Dave
Subject: 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 vestigal reputation that Bexley council might still retain and I should have reported him to the Ombudman 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 governnent.

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 demansd a comprehensive reply.

best regards,

Malcolm Knight


From: Moore, Paul
Sent: 04 July 2013 18:28
To: 'bexleycouncil at malcolmknight co uk'
Cc: Tuckley, Will; Alabi, Akin; Hollier, Nick
Subject: FW: Department for Communities and Local Government - Law changes

Mr. Knight,

I am responding on the Council’s behalf to your email to Mr Easton on 18th June, on the question of Photography/Filming and recording of Council meetings.
You will also be aware from my correspondence that you have posted on your website, that there is a possible contradiction between the Regulations that the DLG have passed and the public guidance recently issued. It remains a matter for Councils to decide whether to permit photography, recording or filming of its meetings. The Council’s agreed protocol on Behaviour at Council, Committee and Sub-Committee meetings still stands. This requires that “the permission of the Mayor/Chairman is to be sought for any audio or visual recording of proceedings”. This was agreed by the Constitutional Review Panel on 31 March 2010 and confirmed by Full Council on 14 April 2010.

The Leader of the Council has asked me to bring forward a paper to the Constitutional Review Panel setting out all the issues and options for Members. This paper will address issues about and options for filming and recording in both our current Civic Centre and in moving to the former Woolwich building, next year. This paper will also consider the question of webcasting and any issues relating to filming of members of the public who also attend and in some cases speak at meetings – particularly planning. I shall be seeking to arrange a meeting of the Constitutional Review Panel, if possible, in early September.

I have also raised your specific request for photography with the Leader of the Council, who will chair the Cabinet meeting next week. She is clear that the Council will review its position on photography, recording and filming in a structured and thorough way, addressing all the relevant issues, both short and medium term. This will happen through the review outlined above. In the meantime, photography will not be permitted at the Cabinet meeting next week. I shall query the position in relation to the Council meeting on the 17th with the Mayor, although I would be slightly surprised if the position changed. I shall probably be in a position to confirm the Mayor’s view on Monday 15th or early Tuesday 16th, July.
I should stress that the Regulation on which the recent Guidance is based clearly states…. “Nothing in these Regulations requires a decision-making body to permit the taking of photographs of any proceedings or the use of any means to enable persons not present to see or hear any proceedings …”

I know that you are seeking a shift in Council practice on photography, recording and filming and I can assure you that options which could achieve this will be set out in the review paper. It would clearly assist deliberations in the coming months if the Council’s meetings are not disrupted by attempts to photograph, record or film without consent. I can only advise you that further disruption runs the risk of alienating those who appear willing to consider all options going forward.

Regards,

Paul Moore

Director of Customer and Corporate Services
London Borough of Bexley


From: Malcolm Knight
Sent: 05 July 2013 09:56
To: 'Moore, Paul'
Cc: 'Tuckley, Will'; 'Alabi, Akin'; 'Hollier, Nick'
Subject: RE: Department for Communities and Local Government - Law changes

Dear Mr. Moore,

Thank you for clearly setting out the council's current position which I will of course respect.

I think you will know that on a personal level I have no wish to photograph meetings on a regular basis though it would be nice to take the occasional one as a meeting started. I appreciate that to take pictures at random throughout the meeting might prove to be distracting for some and would have no advantage over an opening shot. However I shall continue to campaign for Bexley council to subscribe to open and transparent governance in accordance with DCLG guidelines on this and other matters. Clearly your leadership has been hell bent on going in the other direction and shows little sign of changing.

Perhaps when speaking to the Mayor you could inform her that only a single photograph taken from the public gallery of her opening her first full meeting is proposed, I would not expect to repeat it at future meetings. The Mayor has done nothing so far to deserve anything but sympathetic coverage and I believe my blog reflects that.

May I also add that if the council decides to spend huge sums on web casting to a handful of residents from the new or old premises you can expect severe criticism from me.

best regards,

Malcolm Knight


From: Moore, Paul
Sent: 05 July 2013 12:24
To: bexleycouncil at malcolmknight co uk
Cc: Tuckley, Will; Alabi, Akin; Hollier, Nick
Subject: Re: Department for Communities and Local Government - Law changes

Mr. Knight,

Thank you for your note. I shall ensure that the Mayor is made aware of the basis on which you are seeking to photograph.

Regards

Paul Moore


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