Access to council meetings for journalists, bloggers and the public

Filming council meetings

The law allows journalists and bloggers to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England. The government has published a guide to explain more, including the right for members of the public to film council meetings:

The council has produced a guide for members of the public and press who may wish to record any council proceedings. It sets out what can be expected from the council and members of the public/press with regards to recording meetings in order to ensure that proceedings run smoothly and effectively whilst also maintaining the right for such meetings to be recorded as set out in the above government guide.

Guidance for recording council meetings

Guidelines for members of the public attending and recording public meetings

1. Introduction

In general members of the public have the right to attend all public meetings of the council. However, in certain circumstances when documents contain confidential or restricted information members of the public will be asked to leave the room when those items are being discussed.

The council’s monitoring officer is legally responsible for keeping records of decisions and ensuring public access to information. A member of his team will be in attendance at meetings of the council to provide advice and guidance in accordance with the regulations and the council’s constitution.

The government’s Openness of Local Bodies Regulations 2014 Regulations were published in August 2014 and afford members of the public the rights to report on proceedings via online media, for example blogs, twitter and other social networking sites and local news forums. The Regulations are supported by a Department for Communities and Local Government plain English guide.

2. Responsibilities of the council

The council will provide reasonable facilities for those wishing to report on proceedings and has the discretion to amend from time to time its definition of what it determines to be such facilities. The council provides the following facilities:

  • Free public WiFi in the council chamber and committee rooms;
  • Free access to public agendas, meeting and councillor information, minutes, decision details, elections info and more on the council’s web pages;
  • Reasonable assistance in providing adequate space for recording to take place;
  • The council chamber and meeting rooms are equipped with a hearing loop system. Members, officers and members of the public who are hard of hearing can benefit from using the system.

3. Responsibilities of the public

By attending a public meeting of the council, executive board or any committee or subcommittee, you are agreeing to these guidelines as a whole and in particular the stipulations listed below:

  • Anyone planning to record meetings of the Council and its public committees through any audio, visual or written methods they find appropriate can do so providing they do not disturb the conduct of the meeting;
  • You are welcome to attend a public meeting to report proceedings, either in ‘realtime’ or after conclusion of the meeting, on a blog, social networking site, news forum or other online media;
  • You may use a laptop, tablet device, smartphone or portable camera to record a written or audio transcript of proceedings during the meeting;
  • Facilities within the Town Hall and council chamber are limited and recording equipment must be of a reasonable size and nature in order to be easily accommodated. You are asked to contact a member of the democratic services team if you have any large or complex recording equipment to see how this can be accommodated within the existing facilities;
  • You must not interrupt proceedings and digital equipment must be set to ‘silent’ mode;
  • Any person whose behaviour threatens to disrupt orderly conduct will be asked to leave;
  • Be aware that libellous comments against the council, individual councillors or officers could result in legal action being taken against you;
  • The recorded images must not be edited in a way in which there is a clear aim to distort the truth or misrepresent those taking part in the proceedings;
  • Personal attacks of any kind or offensive comments that target or disparage any ethnic, racial, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability status could also result in legal action being taken against you;
  • Failure to comply with the above requirements may result in the support and assistance of the council in the recording of proceedings being withdrawn.

The council regards violation of any of the points above as a risk to the orderly conduct of a meeting. The council therefore reserves the right to refuse entry, to any further council meetings, to any person who breaches any of these restrictions. The chair of the meeting will ensure that the meeting runs in an effective manner and has the power to ensure that the meeting is not disturbed through the use of flash photography, intrusive camera equipment or the person recording the meeting moving around the room.

4. Procedure at meetings

The following will apply to all meetings to be recorded by the council:-

4.1 Main provisions:

  • The chairman of the meeting has the discretion to request the termination or suspension of recording if in the opinion of the chairman continuing to record would prejudice the proceedings of the meeting.

This would include:
a) Public disturbance or other suspension of the meeting;
b) Any other reason moved and seconded and supported by the Council.

  •  Any elected member who is concerned about any audio recording should raise their concerns with the monitoring officer or in their absence, the deputy monitoring officer.

4.2 A note is included on the agenda informing members of the public that the proceedings may be recorded. Information is also displayed outside of the meeting explaining the rights to film.

4.3 Conduct of meetings

  1. At the start of each meeting to be recorded, an announcement will be made to the effect that the meeting is being or may be recorded, and that the chairman may also terminate or suspend the recording of the meeting, in accordance with this protocol.
  2. It is essential that everyone present remembers to switch on their microphone when speaking (when in the council chamber) and that the chairman or advisor states the date and description of the meeting at its commencement.
  3. When meetings are private (not open to the public) or when confidential or exempt items of business are transacted (when the press and public are excluded), access to replay/obtain copies will be restricted in accordance with the access to information rules.

Members of the public are able to submit questions to council meetings, please refer to the guide on asking a public question at a council meeting. If you would like to attend a meeting of the council, please read our guide to committees  for more information attached to this protocol.

Attending public meetings 

The public have the same privileges as accredited journalists in the reporting of proceedings in council meetings. This may be done via the use of online media such as blogs, twitter or hyperlocal news forums for example.

You can view the full legislation: The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012.

The council has produced some simple guides for anyone wishing to exercise this right in our council chambers.

Members of the public are able to submit questions to Council meetings, please refer to the guide on asking a Public Question at a Council Meeting

Guidelines for citizen reporters

Guidelines for members of the public attending public meetings

On 10 September 2012 the government introduced new regulations relating to council meetings and residents’ access to information. The full legislation is available here: The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012. Part of this legislation offers new legal rights to ‘citizen reporters’. This means that members of the public are afforded the same rights as accredited journalists to report on proceedings via online media, for example blogs, twitter, other social networking sites and hyperlocal news forums.

Responsibilities of the council

  • The council will publish a notice of the meeting on the website 28 days prior, including a document explaining the key decision to be made plus any related documents and how to access these documents
  • In the case of a ‘special urgent decision’ where 28 days notice cannot be given, the council will publish a notice to explain the reasons why
  • The council will justify the decision to hold any meeting in private and allow the public to make representation against this decision
  • For members of the public attending a meeting for the purpose of reporting the proceedings, the council will provide, as far as practicable, reasonable facilities.

Responsibilities of the public

By attending a public meeting of the Executive Board or any committee or sub-committee, you are agreeing to these guidelines as a whole and in particular the stipulations listed below:

  • You are welcome to attend a public meeting to report proceedings, either in ‘realtime’ or after conclusion of the meeting, on a blog, social networking site, news forum or other online media
  • You may use a laptop, tablet device or smartphone to record a written or audio transcript of proceedings during the meeting
  • You must not interrupt proceedings and digital gadgets must be set to ‘silent’ mode
  • Any person whose behaviour threatens to disrupt orderly conduct will be asked to leave
  • Be aware that libellous comments against the council, individual councillors or officers could result in legal action being taken against you
  • Personal attacks of any kind or offensive comments that target or disparage any ethnic, racial, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability status could also result in legal action being taken against you.

The council regards violation of any of the points above as a risk to the orderly conduct of a meeting. The council therefore reserves the right to refuse entry, to any further council meetings, to any person who breaches any of these restrictions.

Public questions at council meetings

At each ordinary meeting, with the exception of the budget meeting, the public are able to ask a question at meetings of the council.

A maximum of three questions can be asked per meeting. Only one question may be submitted per organisation or person per meeting.

Five minutes will be allocated per question to cover the asking of the question and the response.

The time for dealing with public questions will be capped at 15 minutes.

Where there are more than three public questions received the Mayor may decide that those not dealt with receive a written response or be dealt with at the next meeting.

Questions will be deemed invalid by the Head of Legal and Democratic Services if:

  • It does not relate to a matter for which the council has powers, duties or responsibilities
  • It does not affect the borough
  • In his or her opinion is defamatory, frivolous or likely to give offence
  • Is substantially the same as a question which has been out or responded to under this procedure in the previous six months
  • It cannot be responded to without disclosing confidential or exempt information

In line with The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 meetings of the council may be recorded. Members of the public asking questions may be included within such a recording.

Deadlines for receipt of public questions
The deadline for questions is 12 noon 7 days before the meeting.

How to send your public question to the council

Please send your question with details of which meeting you want it to be dealt with: 

Democratic and Member Services
Warrington Borough Council
Town Hall
West Annex
WARRINGTON
WA1 1UH

Email democratic services or call 01925 442161.

Guide to committees

A Guide to Committee Meetings at Warrington Borough Council

All meetings of Warrington Borough Council committees are usually open to the press and public and take place at the Town Hall, Warrington. This guidance is designed to help you understand the council's meetings.

Who's who at the meeting

Name plates are displayed at the meeting outlining the names of councillors and officers. The chairman generally sits at the centre of the table at one end of the room. It is the chairman's job to control the meeting and to ensure that proceedings are orderly. The members of the committee are elected councillors, appointed to the committee by council at the start of the municipal year in May.

Council officers will have provided professional advice to the councillors in preparing the reports and will be present at the meeting to provide any further information. They are also responsible for implementing the decisions made by the committee. The democratic services officer attends to give advice on procedure as well as recording the decisions made (i.e. taking the minutes). In some instances a legal officer will also attend to provide legal advice and guidance.

What's being discussed

The agenda

Items to be discussed are listed on the agenda and are available to read on the council’s website one week in advance of the meeting. Most agenda items consist of a report, followed by recommendations. Some items include confidential information and therefore no details are included in the agenda.

Confidential Business

Confidential business (referred to as ‘part 2’ on the agenda) includes matters such as financial information about private sector firms which could be commercially sensitive, and certain legal and personnel matters etc. Before such items are discussed, the meeting will pass a special resolution to exclude the press and public and you will have to leave the room. Such items are usually placed at the end of the agenda.

How is the meeting run

Council procedure rules

The conduct of the meeting is governed by a set of procedures which have been agreed by the Council and are set out in the Council's constitution.

Declarations of Interest

At the start of the meeting members have to say publicly if they have an interest in any of the items. This is called 'declaring an interest' and, when the relevant item is reached, the member normally leaves the room whilst it is being discussed, unless the interest is relatively minor and of a nature deemed not to effect how they will make their decision.

Resolutions

To reach a decision the councillors must pass a resolution which means that the majority of members who vote agree with what is proposed. If there is a majority vote against the recommendations made, the members will usually indicate what action they would like the officer to take instead.

Sometimes a member may wish to change part of a recommendation and so he/she will propose an amendment. Amendments have to be seconded by another member before they can be put to the vote.

Voting

Voting sometimes seems a bit confusing because amendments have to be voted on first. If an amendment is passed the amended motion then becomes the 'substantive' motion and must be voted on again. If it is supported it becomes the resolution. The Chairman usually explains what is happening so that Members and visitors know exactly what is being voted on.

Keeping accurate records - Minutes

The minutes of the meetings are a record of what took place and are written by the democratic services officers. Minutes are available on the council website once they have been agreed at the next meeting of the committee.

How do I make my views known

Public Participation allows you the opportunity to make a statement or ask questions at the appropriate time at most Council meetings. The procedures for each committee differ and the Chair has discretion as to what he/she will allow to be put forward. There is public seating provided at Council meetings. Details are provided below on how you can interact at the meetings.

Examples of the procedures followed at committees

Development management committee (DMC) - Members of the public can speak in support of or object to an item, as can parish and borough council representatives. A three minute period is allowed for public speaking for each party in total, i.e. three minutes for objectors, three minutes for supporters and a separate three minutes each for both the parish and borough councillors.

Licensing sub-committees - As part of the application process members of the public, parish councils and ward councillors are asked to forward comments in writing prior to the committee meeting. Only those having provided written comments are allowed to speak in support or against an application. public speaking is allowed at the chairman’s discretion and the time allowed for presentations is again at the chairman’s discretion.

Traffic Committee - Members of the public can speak in support of or object to an item, as can parish and borough council representatives. A three minute period is allowed for public speaking for each party in total, i.e. three minutes for objectors, three minutes for supporters and a separate three minutes each for both the parish and borough councillors.

Council - Members of the public may ask a question at an ordinary meeting of the council. Notice of this must be given in writing no later than noon, five clear working days before the date of the meeting at which the question will be put. There is no opportunity for discussion on the matter but a supplementary question may be asked if related. No more than three questions shall be put at any one meeting and a time limit of five minutes shall apply per question to cover the asking of the question, the response and any supplementary question and response..

Executive board - Public speaking at these meetings is not normally allowed. However, the chairman will allow members of the public to speak on certain occasions such as during consideration of an item that has been ‘called-in’ through the overview and scrutiny process.

As procedures differ between committees contact the democratic services team on 01925 443212 for further information.