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'Labour are increasing secrecy in local government, shutting out the press and public from the council chamber', sa...
'Labour are increasing secrecy in local government, shutting out the press and public from the council chamber', said Archie Norman, shadow secretary of state for the environment, transport & the regions today, commenting on new local government access to information regulations due to come into force on 9 January.
'Currently, the press and public have a right to attend council meetings and see council papers three days in advance of those meetings. Under the new Local Government Act and regulations due to come into force in January, this right of access is being restricted to only 'key decisions'.
'Before the election, Tony Blair promised to make government more open. But obsessed with control freakery, Labour are now creating a new culture of secrecy in local councils. This may create a breading ground for inefficiency and corruption.
'These regulations were issued just before Christmas without even a press release - clear evidence that Labour are trying to sneak through these unpopular and unwanted regulations.
'Conservatives will seek to revoke these regulations in parliament. Moreover, the next Conservative government will reverse any changes that are passed and require all councils to be open to press and public, as has previously been the case. We will promote openness and accountability in local councils and seek to reinvigorate local democracy.'
The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000 were laid before Parliament before Christmas on 19 December and are due to come into force on 9 January 2001.
At present, most council decisions have to be taken at meetings of the full council or its committees, which are subject to the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985. This requires meetings to be open to the public and media, although exempt information can be discussed and decided in private session, such as commercially sensitive reports or those related to individual staffing issues. If the meetings are open to the public, agendas, officers` reports and background papers must be publicly available at least three days in advance.
Under the Local Government Act 2000 and new regulations recently tabled in parliament and due to come into force on 9 January, only 'key decisions' of the new executive structures in local government (cabinets or directly-elected mayors) will be subject to such public scrutiny. This is a significant increase in secrecy in local government.
Tony Blair once advocated more openness in government
'The first right of a citizen in any mature democracy should be the right to information. It is time to sweep away the cobwebs of secrecy which hang over far too much government activity.' (Tony Blair, John Smith Memorial Lecture, 7 February 1996).
'We want to end the obsessive and unnecessary secrecy which surrounds government activity and make government information available to the public unlessthere are good reasons not to do so.' (Tony Blair, Speech to Campaign for Freedom of Information Annual Awards, 25 March 1996).
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