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I am an East Riding of Yorkshire and Bridlington Town Councillor elected to represent Bridlington South Ward. The views and posts on this site are my personal views and are not those of East Riding of Yorkshire Council or Bridlington Town Council. If you become a member of this Blog I will expect you to adhere to posting comments that are not offensive or illegal.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Rubbish and Fly-tipping – a sign of our times


Cleaning up Britain's rubbish costs us more than a billion pounds a year. Hardly surprising, given we drop five times more litter today than we did in the Sixties - much of it as a direct result of our fondness for fast food, soft drinks and sweets. Yet while we seem unwilling to pick up after ourselves - or our pets - other people's discarded rubbish still gets many hot under the collar”

Last night BBC Panorama aired a programme about the increasing amount of rubbish both on our streets and in open spaces dumped by the public.  Over the past few months I have been alerted to the growing problem of fly-tipping in urban areas. The presumption is that, “the council will remove it”.  Unfortunately this is not the case as farmers have found out over the years.  If the rubbish is dumped in private alley ways it becomes the responsibility of the home owners.  I have raised the issue with various departments and have spoken out at meetings I have attended:

1.  Chamber of Commerce – to alert their small business members that the Council will not remove rubbish dumped on private land unless there is a threat to public health.

2.  Community Partnership meeting – is it a fire hazard as well as antisocial behaviour.  

The big question is who is responsible:

1. The Public

2. The Council

3. The Producers of packaging

In my view it should be a collective responsibility to ensure our environment  stays clean. Fast food outlets and retailers should have a duty of care to provided bins, offer incentives and litter pickers. Councils should ensure that the public have bins, are educated about the cost and impact of their behaviour and of course the general public including small businesses and their responsibilities.

Bridlington Town Council is doing its bit by helping to fund bins and stencilling paths with the help of the Community Payback Scheme. 

Unfortunately the root of the problem is the mind set of those that just don’t care.  The Keep Britain Tidy campaign has seen their funding reduced so the message has been diluted.  Councils charge at their tips for commercial waste leading to fly tipping as business margins are reduced.  Many schools try to educate children on social responsibility but the message is not always reinforced at home. Councils have become more cost conscious and have also seen their budgets reduced.

OK so should we all get angry and confront and report litter louts, should parking enforcement officers have a dual role, should councils not charge for commercial waste at tips, should we have more bins, should fast food outlets/supermarkets have a local rubbish levy?

Probably a combination of all the above but it may be too little too late.

Some Research & Guidance

Reporting Fly tipping

The Law

Legislation on fly-tipping

There is no specific definition of fly-tipping other than that set out in section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which says it is an offence to treat, keep or dispose of controlled waste without a waste management licence or in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health.

The absence of any formal definition of illegal waste disposal is deliberate. According to guidelines produced by Defra: “The definition of fly-tipping is a wide one. This is because there is a general recognition by all including Government ministers that fly-tipping, whether it is a dumped mattress or a lorry load of construction and demolition waste can be linked to anti-social behaviour, fear of crime and the liveability of an area.”

Most of the legislation regulating waste is covered by four main Acts: The Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989, The Environment Protection Act 1990, The Town and Country Planning Act 1991 and The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 (the 2005 Act). The 2005 Act was specifically intended to make it easier to deal with environmental crimes. Part 5 of the Act covers waste and gives local authorities, the police and the Environment Agency greater powers when dealing with waste crime.

The 2005 Act raised the penalties on conviction for fly-tipping crimes, bringing the fly-tipping of all types of waste in line with hazardous waste and making ‘the polluter pay’ by allowing courts to order the offender to meet the costs for the enforcement and investigation, and for land to be cleaned of fly-tipped waste

Friday, 11 October 2013

Transparency & Democracy - Local Councils

Why I am Seconding the Two Motions on Transparency

 Since I became an ERYC Ward Councillor over two years ago I began to see why many residents are disenfranchised from the workings of the Council. It is important to remember that these are our customers.   Although most of the meetings are open to the public they may not be able to attend because:

1.  The cost and availability of the journey to Beverley  from  a large geographic area

2.  May have caring commitments and meetings finishing well after schools close

3.  Disability

4. They are one of the Conservative Hard-workers who cannot get time off work

5. Students – who we must engage  with but attend school, college or University

Although the Council does publish Minutes of meetings they do not have any indication of the discussion held just a resolution.   Questions asked in Full Council are minuted with x or y responded but not with what they responded. So how can the Council Tax payer have any idea of what really happens?  We could film it and put the film on the ERYC website with the minutes. 

This is the recommendation from the Local Government Association.  ERYC should buy into this as other Councils have.
Social media

The LGA is committed to supporting local government colleagues to help realise the full potential of social media. We believe that, used correctly, social media is a powerful tool helping to drive cultural, political, economic and social engagement. It is also a key communications tool for local authorities and highlights their commitment to openness and transparency.
Social Media Friendly

The LGA developed this Social Media Friendly Mark for councils to display on their documents such as meeting papers, websites and any other relevant material. It helps to demonstrate their commitment to allowing the use of social media. It will also enable councils to make it clear that in meetings, social media channels such as twitter can be used.

We are keen to demonstrate through practical examples from the sector that using social media in a coordinated and sensible way, as part of a strategic approach to communications, can help enhance the reputation of local government, improve engagement with different elements of the community and drive efficiency. Therefore we would encourage as many local authorities as possible to use the mark as a clear expression of their commitment to the use of social media.

How it happened for Parliament:

Broadcasting Parliament

The idea of broadcasting the proceedings of Parliament was first suggested by the BBC in the 1920s but permission was refused.
Pressure for proceedings to be broadcast grew in the 1960s and led to two experimental periods in 1968 and 1975.
Permanent radio coverage was eventually granted in 1978 although cameras were still not allowed into the House on a permanent basis.
In November 1984, cameras were installed in the Lords on an experimental basis and have remained ever since.
Resistance in the Commons continued until a close vote in 1988 when cameras were allowed into the lower Chamber, also for a trial period.
The experiment began in November 1989 for a period of 18 months and permanent access was granted in 1990.
Tight rules apply to the use of footage of parliamentary proceedings and filming in other parts of the Palace is very strictly controlled.

It should be noted that Hansard is a word by word record of what is said – again far more than our residents get.

I am aware that there are some negatives involved in the filming of meetings but with the right will and safeguards in place they can be overcome.
Link to Full Council agenda with the Labour Group Motions on Transparency:

http://www2.eastriding.gov.uk/council/committees/the-council/council-meetings/ scroll down to Agendas 9th October 2013

Link to Guidance for local people re meetings:


Other Links and some Guidance

Councils should allow public meetings to be reported via social media and recorded on film, guidance published by the secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, states.

The guidance aims to set out the rights of the public - including, as specified in the overall announcement, "journalists and bloggers" - to access public council meetings and document the proceedings. This is based on The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations, which applied from September last year.

"The new guidance explicitly states that councillors and council officers can be filmed at council meetings, and corrects misconceptions that the Data Protection Act somehow prohibits this", the department for communities and local government said
in a release. The 14-page guide "also outlines the assorted rights that taxpayers have to access council papers and documents".

According to the guidance, members of the council "should expect to be held to account for their comments and votes in such meetings", and should also "provide reasonable facilities for any member of the public to report on meetings".

The guide adds that the Data Protection Act should not be used as a reason to "prohibit such overt filming of public meetings", although "councils may reasonably ask for the filming to be undertaken in such a way that it is not disruptive or distracting to the good order and conduct of the meeting".

"As a courtesy, attendees should be informed at the start of the meeting that it is being filmed; we recommend that those wanting to film liaise with council staff before the start of the meeting.

"The council should consider adopting a policy on the filming of members of the public speaking at a meeting, such as allowing those who actively object to being filmed not to be filmed, without undermining the broader transparency of the meeting."

Social media reporting

As well as establishing the fact that councils should allow public meetings to be filmed, the guidance also refers to social media coverage, adding that: "bloggers, tweeters, Facebook and YouTube users, and individuals with their own website, should be able to report meetings."

"You should ask your council for details of the facilities they are providing for citizen journalists."

While the regulations apply only to courts in England, Pickles also makes a point to call specifically on the Welsh authorities to offer "the same rights as those in England now have".

In January, Journalism.co.uk reported on the
difficulties local media and bloggers had reported when trying to gain permission to tweet from a Wrexham County Borough Council meeting. The Daily Post launched a Right to Tweet campaign in response.

At the time the north Wales council said "proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded or transmitted in any way outside the meeting without prior permission of the chair", as set out in its constitution. However, the council last month agreed a change to this part of its constitution "to allow the use of social media in its meetings".

The section now states that "use of text based social media such as Twitter, Facebook etc., and SMS text messaging by members who are not appointed to the body whose meeting they are attending, the press and the public is permitted during meetings provided that this does not cause a nuisance or annoyance to others attending the meeting".

The council also added in a statement today that it "has also been allocated some funding to assist with the development of webcasting council meetings and the council is actively considering all its options to make best use of this funding".

Local media response

Along with the release of today's guidance, Pickles added in a statement: "I want to stand up for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state. Data protection rules or health and safety should not be used to suppress reporting or a healthy dose of criticism.

"Modern technology has created a new cadre of bloggers and hyperlocal journalists, and councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules.

"Councillors shouldn’t be shy about the public seeing the good work they do in championing local communities and local interests".

There is no excuse now for councils to ban people from reporting council meetings, whether it's via Twitter, liveblogs, or even filming and recording, which have been contentious issues before in some areas of the countryDaniel Ionescu, the Lincolnite

Reflecting on the latest direction from Pickles, managing editor of hyperlocal site The Lincolnite, Daniel Ionescu, said "this is welcomed news".

"There is no excuse now for councils to ban people from reporting council meetings, whether it's via Twitter, liveblogs, or even filming and recording, which have been contentious issues before in some areas of the country," he said.

"Some local authorities still have some work to do in making the documents available well in advance of the meetings, but this is a great step towards a more open local government.

"While here in Lincolnshire councils have been open to the modern ways of reporting, this is welcomed news for journalists at local papers across the country, as well for independent new media publications and hyperlocal bloggers."

Digital publishing director for Trinity Mirror, regionals, David Higgerson, added that the guidance published today acts as "more than a clarification".

Until today local authorities had "too much wiggle room". The new guidance has "put the ball clearly in the court of local authorities to make it possible for people to film".

He added that there remain "many grey areas within the regulations", such as the procedure if several people want to film a meeting. But he added that the reiteration of the rules and council's responsibilities by Pickles "is a really good sign".

He also highlighted the fact there are councils which "are very proactive" when it comes to transparency and accountability, citing the example of Birmingham Council, which offers a livestream of its meetings.

Head of online editorial development at Newsquest Digital Media Nigel Vincent also welcomed the guidance.

"No longer will councils be able to use spurious justifications to prevent local journalists from filming their meetings," he said.

"While not every episode from the chamber will be a ratings winner, the fact we are now free to film the big decisions and provide our audiences with real-time footage of their elected representatives in action is frankly overdue.

"There’s no hiding behind closed doors anymore – could be an eye-opener for some!"

We know short, relevant video clips are hugely engaging when embedded in articles as are live streams, and this is only going to add to people's perception and understanding of their local authority's workAlison Gow, the Daily Post

Editor of the Daily Post in north Wales Alison Gow said the latest information on what is expected of councils, is "good news for England's mainstream press and hyperlocals".

"I hope we see something similar being introduced in Wales. Councils need and want more people engaged in local democracy, and I see this move as mutually beneficial – allowing different and more detailed ways of telling a story, and putting the audience 'in the room'.

"We know short, relevant video clips are hugely engaging when embedded in articles as are live streams, and this is only going to add to people's perception and understanding of their local authority's work.

"I'd hope Assembly Members and councillors will be asking when this is coming to Wales. The success of the Daily Post's 'right to tweet' campaign shows that authorities are open to change. We managed to get more people and authorities talking and thinking about the importance of reporters covering meetings live, and that led to agreements being reached.

"Allowing filming is the next step on the road."

Damian Radcliffe, who is an honorary research fellow at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, and also produced a
report on the state of hyperlocal media in the UK for NESTA last year, questioned how much of an impact today's development will have in reality.

"This move by CLG will be welcomed by citizens and hyperlocal publishers alike, but to some extent we've heard it all before," he said.

"Back in 2011 Eric Pickles called on councils to let hyperlocal bloggers tweet as well as film council proceedings and local government minister Bob Neill wrote to all councils encouraging them to offer the same level of access as traditional media.

"In many cases this clearly hasn't happened, just as we continue to see many council publications flagrantly breaching the government's publicity code; despite frequent promises to crack down on town hall Pravdas.

"CLG needs to show some teeth and enforce their guidelines, otherwise the full democratic potential of hyperlocal media will continue to go unrealised."

Mr Pickles said:

“I want to stand up for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state. Data protection rules or health and safety should not be used to suppress reporting or a healthy dose of criticism.

“Modern technology has created a new cadre of bloggers and hyper-local journalists, and councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules.

“Councillors shouldn’t be shy about the public seeing the good work they do in championing local communities and local interests.

Ray Duffill, Editor of HU12 Online recently contacted East Riding Council to ask about the use of social media by the public at its meetings.

After attending scrutiny subcommittees in the past there have always been announcements from the Chair about not using mobile phones, recording equipment, cameras, etc.

As technology marches forward and we now have services like Twitter, Facebook, etc, which make the public sharing of comments, discussions and decisions almost instantaneous, then is the East Riding Council going to investigate how it can embrace socialmedia and amend its guidelines to allow the use of smart phones and tablets by the public at its meetings?

If members of the public want to follow a debate at a meeting, they currently have to attend it, or get information on the decisions after the event from the minutes.

If the Council encouraged the responsible use of social media, then meetings could be covered live on Twitter feeds and other social media channels. This would be of benefit to the public, who could follow the feeds, also journalists could comment live on what they are witnessing.

This is not broadcasting the meeting directly, but rather members of the public and journalists commentary on the proceedings.

Are these issues actively being considered by the Council to aid community engagement with the Council and its proceedings?

Diane Hindhaugh, Acting Democratic Services Manager, replied promptly:

“I can confirm that the Council is currently looking at the use of electronic devices in its meetings. As you rightly state, it is vital that the Council moves forward with the changing times and therefore a review is being undertaken.

Currently, as the Constitution states, we do not allow the use of electronic devices, but it is not possible just to reverse this provision without fully considering all the possible implications of doing so, due to the nature of some of our meetings and the decision making process required (planning and licensing matters for instance). There is also the requirement for the Council to abide by the Access to Information provisions as set out in the Local Government Act 1972.

Notwithstanding these issues though, I hope that you are reassured that the answer to your question is yes, the Council is actively considering this matter with a view to making any changes to the Constitution that it feels necessary.”