MEN Journalist and Publisher Win Fight Against Council Secrecy

A virtual Council meeting was originally to be held in private until Local Democracy reporter, Nick Statham and Reach Plc won a legal fight to prevent the press and public being barred from the meeting.

Nick reported: “Stockport councillors are holding a crunch meeting tonight to effectively decide which party will run for the town hall for the next 12 months. No agenda has been published for the ‘informal’ meeting, but it is understood elected members will vote on whether to remove Labour chief Elise Wilson as council leader.

“The virtual meeting was initially to be held in secret until pressure from the Local Democracy Reporting Service and Manchester Evening News forced a town hall U-turn.”

With assistance from Paul Mottram, head of legal and compliance at Reach Plc and Chris Walker, regional managing editor of Reach North West and Wales, Nick challenged the Council, who resisted the first appeal as the meeting had not been convened under the Local Government Act 1972. The council later confirmed they would publicly webcast the meeting.

The NMA campaigned successfully for public and press access to local authority committee meetings during the passage of the Local Government Act 2000 and has previously condemned acts of local authority secrecy, which only undermines the transparency and trust in local democracy.

Speaking to Hold the Front Page, Nick said: “I am delighted that Stockport council is opening this crucial meeting to the public after we challenged its plans to hold it behind closed doors. All 63 councillors will effectively vote on who will run the town hall this year – and to exclude the press and public would undoubtedly have been an affront to democracy and transparency.

“The people of Stockport elected these councillors to represent them just two weeks ago. It is only right that their first meeting is open to full scrutiny, not held in secret.”