Town Hall Secrecy Blamed for Decline in Local Democracy

1 Nov


It’s not just a few campaigners who think there’s too much secrecy in local government. This is what the Newspaper Society website said in 2010:

Town Hall Secrecy Blamed for Decline in Local Democracy

15 April 2010

Council decision-making is more secretive today than ever, making it increasingly difficult for the press or public to scrutinise the workings of local government and thereby undermining local democracy.

That is the conclusion of a paper given by James Morrison, senior lecturer in journalism at Kingston University, to the 60th Political Studies Association Annual Conference in Edinburgh recently.

Despite a “blizzard of legislation” aimed at improving the appearance of local service accountability, “council decision-making in many areas… is more secretive today than in the past,” Morrison says in his paper: ‘Spin, smoke-filled rooms, and the decline of council reporting by local newspapers: the slow demise of town hall transparency’.

He points to the Local Government Act 2000 which led to the introduction of Westminster-style council cabinets and executives and the appointment of political assistants modelled on ministerial special advisors.

Local newspaper editors, the Newspaper Society and the Campaign for Freedom of Information campaigned successfully during the passage of the Act against the Government’s original intention that the new cabinets should be under no obligation to meet in public at all – reversing long-standing public rights of access to traditional council and committee meetings. The legislation was amended to require cabinets to meet in public for discussion of key decisions. But as the paper points out, a loophole identified by the CFOI in 2001 can still be exploited which enables private cabinet discussions of decisions which have been delegated to individual cabinet members.

The combined effect has been to maximise councils’ ability “to take policy decisions in secret, while minimising that of the press, public or indeed councillors shorn of ‘frontbench’ roles, to scrutinise or challenge their actions.”

Full story here:


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