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Councillors must not hide away, says UK minister

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If the new executive councillors on St Helena need any encouragement in their efforts to rip away the capes of secrecy from St Helena Government, this may help:

Councils in the UK have been accused of wanting "to suppress independent reporting" of their meetings – not by meeting in secret, as ExCo traditionally has done, but by refusing to allow meetings to be filmed.

And the accusation has come from no less a figure than cabinet minister Eric Pickles, the man in charge of communities and local government.

In June 2013, he issued guidance telling councils to allow filming of meetings, and the posting of messages on the Twitter website direct from the public gallery.

Members of the public have had the right to sit in on meetings for more than 50 years.

Some councils have refused to play along, even calling the police when people have tried to act on Mr Pickles’ advice.

UK Press Gazette quotes Mr Pickles highlighting the blinking obvious importance of openness (or in other words, honesty).

He said: "Councillors shouldn’t be ashamed or be trying to hide the work they do.

“A small number of councils are blocking filming because they want to suppress independent reporting.

"An independent local press and robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy."

But Mr Pickles’ comments make it very clear that St Helena Government’s clandestine way of working has been the very opposite of good practice.

ExCo members made a good start by discussing the relocation of St Helena’s prison in open session, and then holding an open meeting to explain their decision – which was not unanimous.

But for democracy to be served, ExCo agenda papers need to be published in advance, closed sessions need to be allowed only in limited circumstances, and minutes must be published.

Filming of meetings can come later.

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