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Climbdown on secrecy a victory for The Citizen

A wall of council secrecy has come down in Gloucester after a campaign by The Citizen.

City councillors have abandoned secret meetings of their new cabinet and announced that they will be open to all. Reports and background papers will be made available three working days ahead of meetings and the public will be allowed to attend, ask questions and submit petitions.

The climbdown follows a campaign in which the Citizen graphically illustrated the council’s policy by publishing a weekly column under a Behind Closed Doors logo. The bald minutes of cabinet meetings, issued by the authority, were reproduced with a note saying that the paper would like to tell readers more but press and public were barred from the meetings.

The council has now voted to apply the principles of the Access to Information Act for three months, pending a review of the entire cabinet system.

Tory and Labour councillors had backed the closed system but have had a change of heart.

Liberal Democrat member Phil McLellan said: “I suspect this is less to do with our campaign and more to do with the Behind Closed Doors column, which proved so irritating to the cabinet councillors.”

Tory leader Paul James said: “All the other councils in Gloucestershire have adopted an open cabinet system and we cannot stand alone.”

Council leader Kevin Stephens said: “Our surveys of the public show that the main source of information about the council’s business is The Citizen. In these circumstances, it would be very stupid of me not to have listened to what the paper has said.”

Citizen deputy editor Bev Ward said: “We applaud the council for its U-turn and look forward to a more democratic future.”

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “It’s great news. It’s tremendous that so many editors are campaigning to persuade councils to relent and to be open.”

But he urged papers to be vigilant over the increasing number of important decisions being delegated to officers.

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