Most town councils refusing to allow tweeting from meetings despite advice from Government Minister

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Town councils in the area are not allowing reporters and members of the public to tweet live updates from their meetings even though the Government is urging authorities to be more open to the idea.

Lincolnshire and Rutland County Councils and South Kesteven District Council do allow tweets.

But only one local town council – Market Deeping – says it is currently OK to use social media to reveal what is happening at its meetings.

Uppingham town clerk Susan Awcock said allowing tweeting was “ a dangerous path to take.”

She said there were concerns about people picking “bits and pieces” from the meeting to report live.

Stamford Town Council was asked for a second time if Mercury reporter John Evely could tweet at a council meeting on Tuesday, following the recent release of guidelines from Eric Pickles the Minister for Communities and Local Government.

Mr Pickles’ report called “Your Council’s Cabinet - going to its meeting, seeing how it works” said councils should allow social media reporting of meetings as well as filming.

Despite the recent recommendations, which the town council were advised of by Stamford town clerk Patricia Stuart-Mogg, town councillors voted against the Mercury being allowed to tweet from meetings.

Two proposals were made. The first, to drop the council standing order against using electronic devices in meetings for a one-off trial to allow the Mercury to tweet, failed by 11 votes to five, with one abstention.

The second recommendation was to allow the Mercury to tweet from all meetings failed by 12 votes to four, with one abstention.

Coun Harrish Bisnauthsing (LibDem) said: “Until it becomes law we should not consider it and I will be opposed to it.”

Coun Bob Sandall (Ind) spoke in favour of the Mercury tweeting, calling for the council to support anything which brings greater transparency to the council.

Councillors raised concerns about how snippets being reported live could appear out of context.

Uppingham, Oakham and Bourne town councils said tweeting was not permitted at their meetings.

Oakham Town Council said it has never been approached about tweeting from meetings so did not have a definitive position. However the use of electronic devices are banned in council meetings unless prior arrangements have been made with the council.

Bourne town clerk Nelly Jacobs said she did not believe Mr Pickle’s guidelines applied to town council meetings, citing the document’s reference to ‘principal councils.’ As such Bourne Town Council does not allow tweeting at this time.

All three councils said any suggestions to allow tweeting would have to go before councillors for a vote.

Market Deeping however said it had no problems with anyone tweeting at meetings. Town clerk Mandy Ford said: “Our council has never taken an issue with anyone tweeting in the past.

“Our councillors are very open, above board and transparent in what they do and welcome anyone to come along and show an interest in the town council’s activities.”

She said if any problems arose the council would review the use of Twitter but did not want to pre-empt problems before they happened.

The county and district councils place no restrictions on the press tweeting or filming in their meetings.

Executive support councillor for democratic services at Lincolnshire County Council Marc Jones (Con) said: “Anyone is welcome to attend our public meetings and report on the discussions that take place, and it’s an important part of the democratic process.

“We don’t place any restrictions on reporting through social media channels, including Twitter. If anyone wants to video our meetings, either in full or in part, all we ask is that they seek permission from the chairman of the meeting first so we can make sure that the meeting is not disrupted in any way and that council business can carry on as usual.”

Department for Communities and Local Government press officer Oliver Whitney-Coates said councils had to open their meetings to the public and media, but recording and tweeting from them was a decision for individual councils.

“Our ministers have repeatedly said they don’t want councils to be democracy dodgers though and should let people record and tweet from meetings,” he said.

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