Recording would set the record straight

Recording would set the record straight
Other councils record their meetings

By Town and Around's Special Investigator

After events following a January meeting of the Borough Council, Leader of the Council, Cllr Brian Long must be contemplating the words of George Bernard Shaw, who once said: "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life doing nothing." Much has been written about the spat between a councillor and the local democracy reporter who attended the January council meeting. But nothing has been said about the confrontation Council Leader, Cllr Brian Long had with Cllr Alex Kemp. As Cllr Long was leaving the building he came across Cllr Kemp who was speaking with other councillors. A visibly agitated Cllr Long clashed with Cllr Kemp. As the exchange became more heated a 'working class warrior' stepped in between the warring pair. He and Cllr Long then left the Town Hall together. It's not known what happened once they got outside, but by the following Tuesday neither had any noticeable bruises, and they seemed on good enough terms sitting next to each other in a meeting chaired by Dersingham councillor Judith Collingham.

It appears at the root of the problem was some misunderstanding about what was said, or not said, during the council meeting. For some time members of the Opposition have expressed concerns about the recording of council meetings. They claim the Minutes do not always reflect what was said, nor what happened. A few years ago Town and Around's Richard Bird (then a councillor), following a change in the law, pressed the council to digitally record its meetings. Last year Heacham councillor, Terry Parrish, put a motion to the council calling on the digital recording of council meetings. This council motion, with the support of Cllr Long, was referred to the council's Corporate Performance Panel chaired by Heacham councillor, Stuart Dark. At the end of January nothing had come forward.

It was via a Private Members Bill that, in 1960, the late Baroness Kesteven shone a light on council meetings. Now 60 years after Margaret Thatcher's bill allowed the press to report on council meetings the administration at King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council still does not video or audio record any of its meetings. The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 was updated when, in August 2014, Eric Pickles, then Secretary of State for Local Government, introduced the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations allowing council meetings to be digitally recorded. Now councils as diverse as Norfolk County Council (who post their meetings live on the internet) to Hunstanton Town Council, digitally record their meetings.

It is long overdue that the Borough Council drags itself into the twenty first century, opening its doors to residents who for a vast variety of reasons do not attend its meetings. And there will be something to clarify any misunderstanding or mishearing. Why Cllr Stuart Dark and his Vice Chairman, Massingham councillor, Jim Moriarty, have not already brought forward proposals for the digital recording of council meetings remains a mystery.

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