Northumberland County Council accused of 'blocking democracy' over public questions rule

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Labour Party activists have accused Tory-led Northumberland County Council of ‘blocking democracy’ after they were prohibited from filming during the council’s public question time.

It comes after members of the party attended a full council meeting at County Hall to ask questions, posting a recording of proceedings on social media.

The council’s filming protocol acknowledges that is required ‘by legislation’ to allow any member of the public to take photographs as well as film and audio recordings proceedings.

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Indeed, the council itself live streams full council meetings and posts the resultant video on YouTube.

County Hall in Morpeth.County Hall in Morpeth.
County Hall in Morpeth.

However, the council has now said that the public question time portion of the meetings is ‘not part of the public meeting’ meaning recording is not permitted.

Vicky Oakley, the branch secretary of the Morpeth and Pegswood Constituency Labour Party, criticised the council for the move.

She said: “Other councils in the North East have public questions as part of the agenda. At Northumberland, public questions are not livestreamed and are before the main meeting.

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“We recorded them and put them out on social media twice – but now they have put out some new rules saying we can’t anymore.

“Why are they trying to block democracy? It just seems really bizarre. There are some important questions that need to be answered.

“This is a deliberate move to stop information getting out and we don’t understand why. To be truly transparent and democratic, those questions should be included in the main meeting.”

Mrs Oakley said members had asked questions on the council’s recent budget, focusing on adult social care and the public consultation.

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She added: “It’s not just video recording, it’s voice recording too. They should put it in the main body of the meeting, then there is no problem. We just want answers in the public domain.

“They need to be held to account and be open and honest. What have they got to hide?”

Responding, council leader Glen Sanderson suggested that a change in the policy could be on the horizon.

He said: “I always have been and always will be happy to respond to public questions on camera and have them recorded as part of the full council meeting and I hope this position is reflected as part of the refresh of our constitution.”