Brentwood Council censorship: A new councillor's view

February 4, 2013 10:02 PM
Graeme Clark

Cllr Graeme Clark

Cllr Graeme Clark, one of Shenfield's two Lib Dem councillors (elected nine months ago), gives his view on the decision of the council's managing director to remove from view (for four days) the webcast of the controversial Environment Panel that saw the Tories walk out and leave the opposition to conclude the meeting:

"Brentwood Borough Council is "committed to openness and transparency" - it says so on the council's home page.

"It seems very odd then that the Managing Director's first reaction to an unexpected happening in a panel meeting is to withdraw the public record of the meeting. Whether the argument is that it is "pending an investigation" is irrelevant, the point is that a public record has been censored.

"In my career I've often noticed that the actual behaviour of people in an organisation is strongly influenced by what their leaders do. So, what is the likely effect on the officers of her action? Will they now feel that they can also be less than completely open and transparent because their MD has shown the way? Did she consider the precedent she was setting by her actions?

"At the start of every meeting we are reminded by the chair that the events of the meeting will be recorded and that our human rights may be infringed. I've always thought that meant that if we said or did something that we might later regret, that meant that we would be unable to change the record. The managing director's action now tells us that there are events that can result in the record being censored, so mistakes can be hidden from the public.

"Where are the rules covering censorship of the webcasts? Has a precedent now been set that says that the MD can withdraw any webcast in future? Where are the limits of her powers in this area? Could the Leader direct the MD to take down a webcast, or censor specific sections of it?

"The fact that this action can be taken, and has now been taken, means that we must find out the powers that the MD and Leader have in this area and demand a debate on the subject at the next council meeting. My question is - what powers to censor council meetings do the MD and Leader have and what powers should they have in an open and transparent organisation?"