20 December 2014

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Protests as council boss ejects reporters from meeting

Journalists from two weekly papers were thrown out of a community meeting after a council chief said he was “uncomfortable” with their presence.

Reporters from the Croydon Guardian and Croydon Advertiser were excluded from a meeting of the West Croydon Community Forum along with a local blogger after the council’s chief executive, Jon Rouse, warned members it would be a “very different meeting” if they remained.

Mr Rouse – whose salary including pension contributions totals £248,362 – told the meeting upon his arrival that he would prefer the press not to be present as he did not believe it was his job to be scrutinised by journalists.

The media has previously been invited by members of the forum to attend the meeting at which Mr Rouse was discussing the council’s plans for the area in the wake of last year’s riots.

However Mr Rouse told the meeting: “I just feel uncomfortable about this situation. It’s not appropriate for an officer to be placed in this position. It is going to be a very different meeting if the press are here.

“It is not my job to place myself in a position in which I have to defend council policy and have my words scrutinised and reported on by the press. That is the place of our democratically elected politicians.”

Following his warning, members of the forum voted in favour of the press being ejected, but Croydon Guardian assistant editor Matt Watts said there had been a strong reaction against the move.

He said:  “Questions have been raised about how transparent the council is being about work it is doing in Croydon.”

The West Croydon Community Forum was set up in the wake of last year’s riots in Croydon to help regenerate the area.

Said Matt:  “Its work has been closely followed by our newspaper and  our reporters and other media were invited by the forum to cover a meeting where Mr Rouse would be discussing the council’s work in the area.

“Mr Rouse was not willing to have that discussion with the media present. He obviously felt his comments to members of the forum should not be open to scrutiny or reported more widely.

“Our position would be that if you are the chief executive of a council, he should be publicly accountable. He is paid a large salary and the public should be able to hold him to account.”

Labour leader for the council, Councillor Tony Newman, labelled the decision “deeply disturbing”, adding: “I have always been a passionate believer of a free press. It is fundamental to our democracy.  I find this deeply disturbing and I hope it is something I never see the light of again.”

Meanwhile, one member of the forum walked out in protest and other residents took to Twitter to label the chief executive “arrogant” and accuse him of a lack of transparency.

A spokesman from Croydon Council claimed the meeting did not count as ‘public’.

In a statement, they said: “The meeting was scheduled by WCCF as one of their regular discussions with officers. As it wasn’t scheduled to be a public meeting, once the press were there, WCCF members voted on the issue and asked the media to leave.

“It appears that there had been a misunderstanding caused by someone who tweeted invites to the media.

“WCCF publicises its public meetings on its website and the media and members of the public attend those public meetings, however this meeting was not a public meeting and was not publicised on the website.”

17 Comments

  1. john smith

    Quite right, the press shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near these things, they should wait for the press release like everyone else, all the press do is stir up trouble, if they think they are so great they should put down their notepads and try the job for themselves.

    Report this comment

  2. Ron Barnes

    Quite wrong. Public servants should be accountable to the public. Reporting is important way to inform the public and allow them to hold their council to account. Astonishing to say that “It’s not appropriate for an officer to be placed in this position”.

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  3. Heart of all Things Frugal

    Sure, John. I’d try the job for £248,362 p/a

    Report this comment

  4. Digital kid

    John Smith – do you realise you don’t live in Putin’s Russia or Communist China? What are you trying to hide?

    Report this comment

  5. redundant hack, lancashire

    Public bodies have always had the power to exclude the press and public during sensitive discussions. You may not like it, but that is their right.

    Report this comment

  6. Boring Old Sub

    I think John Smith is talking with his tongue wedged firmly in his cheek…. Isn’t he?

    Report this comment

  7. Bluestringer

    Hang on. This was a community forum? Not a meeting of Cobra, right?
    This chief exec wants to have a word with himself.
    It is in fact entirely “appropriate” that a ludicrously well-remunerated public servant such as he is open to press scrutiny.

    Report this comment

  8. Tog

    I sincerely hope so.

    Public servants at every level should be subject to complete transparency and accountability. Anyone in public office, elected or not, must understand that if they don’t accept scrutiny then only the worst conclusions will be drawn.

    Report this comment

  9. john smith

    Im sick of all this accountability,where will it end having to know when they go to the loo?, everyone including public officials is entitled to privacy, we do not need to know every move they make. It doesnt matter how accountable we make them there will always be mistakes and there will always be corruption so its best left well alone.

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  10. Paul Francis, Kent

    Ridiculous [of the council] on many counts, not least the tosh from the chief exec about it not being his job to be scrutinised by journalists. A wider point is that there is a proliferation of these types of ‘forums’ and ‘partnership’ groups being set up by councils as part of their efforts to devolve power – and decision-making – to local communities. However, as they are not council committees, they fall outside existing access to information legislation so are able to meet behind closed doors if they choose.

    Perhaps it is time for our good chum Mr ‘Transparency’, the communities minister Eric Pickles, to take a look…

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  11. The Big Exclusive

    Actually redundant hack they haven’t always had that right. It was introduced in 1972 through the Local Government Act if I recall correctly.
    Irrelevant here anyway as it wasn’t an official public meeting.

    Report this comment

  12. WhatAScoop

    Ironically Jon Rouse’s words have now been “scrutinised and reported on by the press” on a much wider level than if he’d have got on with what sounds like a run-of-the-mill meeting. Not sure why a “community forum” shouldn’t count as a public meeting though. Are the community forum being told things the public community should not be allowed to know?

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  13. Chris Youett, Coventry

    If the forum wanted to exclude the media, it would have had to have passed a resolution to that effect at the start of the meeting, just like all normal councils do.

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  14. Capt. Starlight

    Shabby conduct and thank goodness it’s now highlighted.

    Report this comment

  15. Questioning old hack

    john smith:
    ‘there will always be mistakes and there will always be corruption so its best left well alone. ‘
    You are extracting it, aren’t you? Please???

    Report this comment

  16. Mr Brightside

    You may as well get used to this sort of thing. After Leveson it will be even easier for these jumped-up bureaucrats to continue to treat the press (and public) with contempt. The lack of proper scrutiny of public bodies in recent years as the traditional media declines has led to a culture of incompetence and corruption across the whole public sector

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  17. Out-of-work Hack

    “The lack of proper scrutiny of public bodies in recent years as the traditional media declines has led to a culture of incompetence and corruption across the whole public sector”

    My old news editor didn’t like me attending council meetings. He said I could get the news from having a ring round the following morning.

    What a tool.

    Report this comment



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