Richard Taylor On Open Democracy

17:23 Friday 28th June 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Should council meetings be recorded and filmed? Well the local Government Secretary Eric Pickles thinks so, and he told people recently. But when a Cambridgeshire man tried to follow his guidance and film in a meeting at Huntingdon District Council, he was threatened with arrest. Thirty three year old journalist and campaigner Richard Taylor, who is from Cambridge, joins me in the studio now. Richard, hello.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Good afternoon Chris.
CHRIS MANN: So Eric Pickles told you personally?
RICHARD TAYLOR: He did. He Tweeted in response to me. I asked if Huntingdonshire District Council’s rules were “Pickles-compliant” is how I put it, and he responded to me to say, yes, I could just go ahead, the rules were not, but his new guidance overrides those. And I could just turn up at the meeting and film it.
CHRIS MANN: Why would you want to do that?
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I think it enables me to take action on what’s said. So I went across to listen to our Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright, who was speaking to councillors there. And I do lots of campaigning on policing matters, so I find it useful to have footage of what the Police and Crime Commissioner has said, so I can then take it to people like my local councillors , to my MP, and then put it back to the Commissioner, and question him further on what he’s been saying.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. And here’s a bit of what happened when you tried to film. (OB)
VOX ONE: I’m telling you, that’s the decision. You’re not going to be allowed to film. you’re not going to be allowed to speak.
VOX TWO: Because you haven’t gone through the proper (UNCLEAR) (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Council officials can be heard there telling you you’re not going to film. You’re not going to be able to ask questions, or speak, because you hadn’t gone through the proper procedures.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I’ve never asked to speak, and the Council Chair just invented that bit. So the Chair of the Council, Councillor Mrs Barbara Elizabeth Boddington she’s called, she came up to me in her chain of office and she repeatedly told me that she wouldn’t allow me to film the meeting. The Council’s Head of Legal also came to me, and other Council officers, and other councillors. So there was a very hostile reception to my attempt to film the meeting. But what I did is I insisted that I wanted to hear a ruling from the Chair. As I understand it, the Chair of Council meetings can only throw out members of the public if they’re being disruptive. And I said to the Chairwoman, if she wanted to, then she could, from the Chair of the meeting, once she opened the meeting, then tell me that I was being disruptive, and throw me out. But she decided not to do that, and when it actually got to the start of the meeting, she decided to give me permission to film. But that was only after about half an hour of quite a hostile response, being told that I wouldn’t be allowed to film.
CHRIS MANN: And they threatened to call the police.
RICHARD TAYLOR: They did. They told me that the police were going to be called, and then in fact I was given the impression that actually the police were called.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Huntingdonshire District Council have issued a statement. It’s entitled Filming at Council Meetings. And they say that Government guidance was published in June, and that recordings of meetings open to the public is only permitted with the consent of the Chairman and provided that at least three working days notice has been given prior to the meeting. You didn’t do either of those things.
RICHARD TAYLOR: I didn’t. No. And the reason I didn’t was because of what Eric Pickles has been saying. I wanted to test what Eric Pickles had been saying, and the guidance that he’s issued, which says that the public have a right to record council meetings.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. They go on to say, following publication of the guidance, the Council will review this section of the constitution. In order to do this we have a process that must be followed. They say the Chairman did allow the meeting to be filmed, in anticipation the Council will amend its constitution.” Is that correct?
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well that’s their statement, so presumably things are now going to change. But this kind of problem is being faced all over the country.
CHRIS MANN:¬†They say “On Wednesday evening the Council was unprepared. And like most people they “felt uncomfortable being filmed without prior warning.”
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I don’t think councillors should be feeling uncomfortable to be filmed at all. They’re elected representatives. We need to know what they’re doing. Democracy doesn’t function if we don’t .. can’t find out what our councils are doing.
CHRIS MANN: They say what they’re concerned about was you filming the public, whether they wanted to be identified.
RICHARD TAYLOR: And that is one of the problems with filming council meetings. I completely agree. But a lot of members of the public who are at council meetings are people like parish councillors. They’re representatives of campaign groups. They actually want to be filmed. I had a member of the public recently in Cambridge actually moved in front of my camera because he wanted his representation to the Council to be put on YouTube, to be put on my website. So the vast majority of people want that. But I completely understand that there probably needs to be a protocol for if somebody doesn’t want to be filmed, then they can opt out.
CHRIS MANN: You’ve made your point now. Will you be back to film again??
RICHARD TAYLOR: Oh certainly. I’ll keep trying to film. There’s an awful lot of videos from the County Council, from the City Council, and from the Police and Crime panel on my website already. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I won’t be put off by these officers threatening to call the police.
CHRIS MANN: But it does appear that they have listened to your complaint, and they have taken action, and they’ve considered what you’ve said. Would you agree with that, or not?
RICHARD TAYLOR: I don’t know. They haven’t yet had their meeting. I presume they’re going to meet in July to consider if they’re going to change their rules. But they shouldn’t be so hostile. They just shouldn’t be so difficult. Very few people would do what I did, and ignore repeated calls from councillors, repeated calls from Council officers, and repeated threats to call the police.
CHRIS MANN: Do you think they’re trying to hide something? Or are they afraid of you in some way?
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I think they’re certainly .. they’re hostile to people like me. I felt there was a very hostile response there, and I’m just a member of the public trying to find out what’s going on.
CHRIS MANN: Obviously there are important things discussed at council meetings, but some people would be surprised that you want to film because there’s an awful lot of boring things go on at council meetings too, for hours.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well there were two interesting things on the agenda at the meeting I went in. The Police and Crime Commissioner, there’s a very interesting situation in Huntingdonshire at the moment. There is no local police priority setting, and local councillors don’t set the police priority and hold the police to account, as they do elsewhere in the county. So that was discussed. The whole question of whether we should have PCSOs or PCs, given that they cost about the same, and PCSOs don’t have as many powers as PCs.
CHRIS MANN: Your inspiration was Eric Pickles. Have you got back to him on this?
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I certainly Tweeted. I’ve cited him in the Tweets. And he’s commented, and one of his Ministers has commented.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Richard Taylor, thank you for joining us.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Thank you very much.
CHRIS MANN: Appreciate that.