So, as I posted previously, I have been pursuing two reforms on the council: Firstly, that councillor allowances be fairer and meet government guidance, in other words simply adopting the report of the council’s own independent panel on allowances rather than sticking with the old regime. Secondly, given my successful tribunal over the use of YouTube, that councillors no longer be unfairly restricted from their freedom of political expression in reusing public webcast video.
Unfortunately at last night’s Governance Committee the old guard kept things just the way they are. My detailed request on webcasting arrangements was batted away with effectively a non-answer saying that the Tribunal judged me on a previous version of the webcasting protocol. True, but the Tribunal essentially found that a restriction on councillors using the webcast, which didn’t apply to members of the public, would be an unreasonable restriction on councillors’ freedom of political expression. And that is exactly what the new protocol does, it requires councillors to seek written permission to use a clip, when a member of the public under copyright fair dealing rules could do so anyway. I will keep trying on that.
With the Green attempt to implement the Independent Remuneration Panel’s report of March 2010 I’m afraid there was a heavy dose of condescending and patronising remarks from the old guard. Of course they don’t want to change things, that would remove some of the feudal control they have over their groups by handing out posts (with allowances) to folk they want to toe the line. So the Labour and Conservative councillors voted against my amendment seeking to implement the long overdue changes to our systems of allowances.
It’s worth noting that the Panel’s report to the committee last night, an excellent piece of work in its own right, roundly rebutted all the reasons Tory and Labour councillors had used to reject the proposed reforms at last year’s council meetings. It’s a shame the other groups can’t agree to change on this, especially when we have such strong work from our independent panel to lead the way. I can’t say I was surprised by their vote against change though, those two parties have been taking turns running the city like and old club for years and they want to keep it that way.
One more point: Last night’s meeting also briefly discussed the move to individual voter registration. I do have some concerns about the changes planned with this reform, but overall it is a long overdue move which will help improve security. Keep in mind this was a policy passed by the previous Labour government, the timetable has just been brought forward by a year by the new government. So I was surprised to see Labour group leader Cllr Gill Mitchell trying to make something of this with a press release attacking the reform “Labour fears consequences of new electoral system“!
In the piece Cllr Mitchell attacks the lack of pilots – when there are pilots scheduled, the lack of additional funding – when there is £104 million of additional funding for this work, and suggests that this could undermine the integrity of our democracy – when ‘ghost’ registrations (the polite way of saying fraudulent entries on the register) have been a major problem especially with postal voting. So not exactly the most apposite comments I’ve seen. It does sum up how Labour will attack anything if they think it will get them something, even if it was their idea in the first place! I’m more than happy to accept that all parties have good ideas sometimes. I’m pleased the government have abolished ID cards, plan to scrap the councillor Standards regime and will introduce individual voter registration. There, I said it!