Wrexham Council have made history with their first online broadcast of a record of a meeting via its website this afternoon.
The system, funded by a Welsh Government grant, is due to offer a live streaming option however for now this is a ‘watch again’ style system – you can view the 2.2 hour Executive Board meeting from last week here on this site.
We wondered if there would be any odd behaviour or specific changes such as those seen when Sky Sports moved to ‘HD’ resulting in some presenters having their hands waxed. Such extremes were not spotted, but we did observe a few changes as noted below.
The meetings are now preceded by an additional notice aside from the usual safety ones, letting people know that if they are in the chamber it is likely they will appear on camera and what that means. This also includes the public gallery , which is also now used as the main entrance and exit door while business is underway. This section of the meeting is not part of the recorded content, although on first look we cannot spot any edits or changes to the proceedings compared to being there, and what appears online.
There has been a slight reworking of the chamber layout to allow four wall mounted cameras to focus on key areas, the front and back of councillors and those presenting and responding to reports and questions. The ‘press’ have been booted out of their table and are now in a reserved row in the public gallery.
Although the presentation or dress of a Councillor does not affect their work in any way and nor are we a fashion conscious team but we did get a general impression that intentionally or not the meeting was attended more smartly than usual. We did have a natter with one Councillor prior to the meeting who we told of the webcasting, he jokingly said he should have worn a tie but did not seem concerned about dress and stated his approval of more transparency. It was also mentioned that the cameras may spot those who attend a meeting yet leave quite early in proceedings, and those who do not verbally take part in meetings, although in the output the wider shots are lacking so such detail could be missed unless people note who is or is not there between ‘scenes’.
One of the most controversial items on the agenda related to the revenue budget, or the ongoing cuts or savings presented to the Councillors prior to going out to consultation. Previously we have seen some heated debates, and we are unsure if the questions were more placidly presented due to the cameras, or if it was due to the proposals have not reached the ‘meaty’ stage yet.
Cllr Joan Lowe was the exception to this, who had more pointed and direct questioning than we have seen since we started covering Council meetings, with ongoing minor tete-a-tete with Cllr Neil Rodgers.
Previously we have seen controversial topics discussed in the chamber, sometimes with a packed public gallery. Such meetings often have a more adversarial nature to them, and often despite the rules the odd comment from the public gallery does get heard and on occasion responded to. Hopefully the delay in implementing the cameras, which meant that for example the ‘memorable’ Plas Madoc meetings were missed, does not mean such live interactive democracy is toned down.
The ongoing bane of the life of a Wrexham Councillor continues with the ability to turn on and off microphones still affecting some, which previously was not a practical issue, however now does cause issue as it appears they are linked to the broadcast system and camera focus. Several Councillors did help out their colleagues with the system, although it seems the £60,000 grant to enable webcasting did not stretch to a couple of new mic’s so all could have one.
The webcasting of meetings is important as it expands the number of eyes that are reviewing proceedings, or at least potentially reviewing the meetings. Currently the meetings are between Councillors and Council staff, with the occasional smattering of ‘general public’ often with an interest and one or three from local media. Often the only written reports are the minutes or the agenda items which get written up and/or selected to be published by media. These often do not give the flavour of the meeting directly, nor is it practically possible to record all items on an agenda in full.
For those who wish to view the meeting, or just have a nosey at how the new system works you can find it here on the Council’s branded website.
Currently we understand that the video on that page will be removed from public view after a period of time, and cannot be reused on other websites or mediums, therefore preventing ‘mashups’ , collections, ‘best bits’ or videos entitled Councillors Do The Funniest Things.
It is impossible to tell from a single meeting if cameras are affecting the manner of the meetings, however we would encourage people to ‘tune in’ and attempt to take an interest as after all you are the people who feature in the meetings – and if you spot anything of interest or fun let us know.
There is, as always, a forum thread already taking place on this – you can view and take part here - with one person already asking based on the video why a question was not answered!