Draft regulations enshrining the right of media and local residents to report, tweet and blog about council and local authority meetings have been published by ministers.
The rules, which are subject to approval by Parliament, are the latest move by the government to ensure greater transparency and enhance the accountability of local decision makers.
A number of councils and their staff have blocked local and online media from reporting meetings. In some cases both health and safety and data protection laws have been incorrectly cited to defend the decision.
Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government have previously published guidance confirming the right to attend and report council meetings.
Local government minister Brandon Lewis last week suggested that the new rules would tackle those councils which are “dragging their feet” and failing to embrace transparency.
Once the regulations are approved, all councils will be reminded of their duty “to provide reasonable facilities to the free press (including print media, film crews, hyper-local journalists and bloggers) in a way that still allows for the orderly conduct of a meeting.”
Anyone attending a meeting will be free to use “use any communication method, including the internet,” to report on it.
The government’s draft rules make it clear that “it is a legal duty for the local government body to follow the new provisions” and that a council’s own rules or Standing Orders cannot remove or limit the ability to report or record a meeting.
In addition to admitting the media, the rules will require councils and other local government bodies to publish a ‘decision record’ listing significant decisions which have been taken by staff acting under delegated authority.
A number of local authorities, including the Greater London Authority, already publish such lists which make it easier for local taxpayers and voters to understand how decisions affecting them are made.