The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014
In August 2014 the Government introduced new regulations which seek to ensure that members of public are able to report on meetings of local government bodies, and require written records of certain decisions taken by Officers. A summary of the new regulations is set out below.
Greater rights for reporting on Council meetings
The regulations allow the public greater rights to report at open meetings of local government bodies by filming, photographing, audio recording or any other means.
The regulations form part of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 which was promoted by the Government as the key to helping bloggers and tweeters as well as journalists to unlock the mysteries of local government and to make it more transparent for all.
The regulations allow anyone to attend a public meeting of the Council for the purposes of reporting, and allow anyone with the aim of reporting to use any communication method, including the internet, to publish, post or otherwise share the results of their reporting activities, during or after the meeting.
The Government has prepared a guide to the regulations which covers all aspects of access to information and meetings.
The guide makes clear that Authorities are required to provide reasonable facilities to enable reporting. They are advised to use their common sense to determine the range of reasonable facilities they can actively provide to the free press, but facilities should include space to hear and view the meeting, seats and ideally a desk.
The changes in the regulations do not affect the current circumstances in which a private meeting may be held or a person may be excluded (for example where exempt information would be disclosed).
Reporting Decisions taken under Delegated Authority - The Regulations
The adoption of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations in August 2014 changed the requirements placed on local authorities in regard to reporting decisions taken under delegated authority by Officers.
Prior to the new regulations, Officers were required only to produce a report on decisions taken under authority delegated to them under the Authority's Executive powers.
The requirement has now been extended all decisions, whether made by an officer or on behalf of another committee/sub-committee or joint committee, in which the Council participates. This applies where the decision has been delegated to an officer, either under a specific delegation or under a general authorisation, and the effect of the decision is to:
grant a permission or license;
affect the rights of an individual;
award a contract or incur expenditure which in either case, materially affects the Council's financial position.
Background papers are to be made available to the public as soon as reasonably practicable after the decision is made, at all reasonable hours at the offices, on the website and by such other means the Council considers appropriate.
The Regulations also contain obligations to provide copies subject to the payment, postage, copying or other necessary charges for transmission. If a request is appropriately made, a copy of the written record and any background papers must be provided. Written records must be retained and available for inspection for six years with background papers being retained for four years. The written statement needs to be available for public inspection at the Civic Offices, and should be placed on the Council's website.
It should be noted that regulations are clear that anyone who has custody of a document which is required to be produced and, without reasonable excuse, intentionally obstructs or refuses access, commits an offence.
Arrangements at Woking Borough Council
Recording of Meetings
Woking Borough Council currently webcasts meetings of the Council, the Executive, and all Committees, with the exception of any discussions which would have the effect of making public any exempt information. The webcasts are available live and for a period of twelve months after the date of the meeting.
A public gallery is available for any members of public wishing to attend the meetings, and a press desk is provided within the Council Chamber at all meetings. Members of public are welcome to record the proceedings, unless such recording is done in such a way that the meeting is disrupted.
Access to Reports, including reports on decisions taken under authority delegated to Officers or Councillors
All Committee reports, with the exception of those containing exempt information, can be found on the Council's website and are also available through the webcast facility. Reports on decisions taken under delegated authority can also be found on the Council's website and can be viewed at the Civic Offices. Copies of the documents can be requested, though may be subject to postage, copying or any other necessary charge for transmission.
Further information on the regulations can be found in the guide prepared by the Government.