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More council meetings could be webcast as committee debate best option to take service forward

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2018.

Wrexham Council looks set to continue with its live webcasting service, with scope to further extend the number of meetings broadcast online.

Currently Executive Board and Planning Committee meetings are webcast live on the Wrexham Council website each month, along with the Full Council meetings as and when they take place throughout the year.

However on Wednesday this week members of the Democratic Services Committee will have the chance to debate whether the service should be extended to include more scrutiny meetings and increase the meeting archive by a further six months.

A report due before councillors on Thursday explains that Wrexham Council’s current webcasting contract with Public-i was awarded for three years with the option to extend for a further one year.

The current contract allows for up to 80 hours of broadcasting per year, with the report explaining that this includes a maximum of 10 hours for Scrutiny Committees. It also provides for the lease of all hardware and software to webcast live and on-demand (archive) meetings, plus hardware and software upgrades and maintenance.

This contract is due to end in January 2019 – with members being asked to decide whether they wish to continue broadcasting meeting beyond that date and on what basis.

Four options for consideration will be put to the committee, with a final decision expected to be made by all 52 councillors at Full Council later this month.

All four options would see the continuation of the webcasting service in some form – along with the potential to further extend the service and potentially increase the public engagement by webcasting more scrutiny meetings.

The first option would see Wrexham Council continue with the status quo and extend the current contract to January 2020.

This would see all Full Council, Executive Board and Planning Committee meetings webcast; along with a maximum of 10 hours for Scrutiny Committees with the facility to broadcast meetings in English and Welsh.

The six month archive of meetings would also remain in place.

A further three options are also put forward, which could see meetings archived for a year and an extension of the number of hours allocated to webcasting scrutiny meetings.

The options also come with indicative costs which are “based on a procurement exercise for a new 36 month contract”.

Option two would see all Full Council, Executive Board, both Planning Committee meetings webcast, along with a maximum of 10 hours for Scrutiny Committees with the facility to broadcast meetings in English and Welsh.

This would also include:

a) 6 month archived at an estimated cost of £14,734 per annum
b) 12 month archived at an estimated cost £15,331.67 per annum

Option three would continue webcasting the three meetings listed above, but would also include a maximum of 50 hours for Scrutiny Committees (10 hours per Committee) with the facility to broadcast meetings in English and Welsh.

This would also include:

a) 6 month archived at an estimated cost of £16,290.33 per annum
b) 12 month archived at an estimated cost of £17,261.67 per annum

The fourth and final option would see the biggest changes to the council’s webcasting system, with the main three meetings webcast alongside a maximum of 110 hours for Scrutiny Committees.

This breaks down to 22 hours per committee, with the facility to also broadcast meetings in English and Welsh.

This would also include:

a) 6 month archived at an estimated cost of £18,158 per annum
b) 12 month archived at an estimated cost of £19,577.33 per annum

A breakdown of the number of people tuning into watch the council webcasting service is also provided in next week’s report, which notes that while the system is being used, its is “not known to what degree public engagement has increased.”

Over the past 12 months the most watched meeting was the Executive Board in September 2017, which saw 275 people tune in for a debate on 21 Century Schools funding (which mentioned the Groves site), creating a new Welsh-medium school and the naming of Wrexham’s new arts and market space.

The webcasts were also recently used as a point of definitive reference for both councillors and the public in the recent budget barney:

Although the report does not state what a ‘view’ is defined as, it adds the system “…now enables data to be provided on the number of actual viewers who have watched a webcast (i.e. reach) rather than the number of hits on a webcast.” Further, despite the external provider being contracted to other councils there is no comparative viewing figures, so our Executive Board could be an X-Factor hit, or a dismal El Dorado.

The report requests that: “The Group consider that while the viewing figures show a mixed picture of the public’s interest in scrutiny, webcasting scrutiny makes an important contribution to the transparency of the democratic process and that even relatively small viewing figures demonstrate a positive contribution to public involvement in scrutiny.”

Viewing figures will be considered at the meeting, and as we wrote at the equivalent meeting last year, there is a growing awareness with councillors on the value of various metrics and also that chasing numbers could be the wrong reason to do things.

Thankfully we have not seen any agenda-bait appear as of yet, however earlier this year there was a threat of ‘enforcement’ against a councillor after a video clip off the meeting webcasting system appeared on Facebook. The clip was not edited itself, however had a specific start and end edit.

The views on that video displayed as over 10,000 times on the Facebook platform (which does not equate to 100% viewing of a clip – Facebook famously rejigged what a view counts as) and with the viewing numbers in the low three figures for meetings there could be a further debate on the rules surrounding the webcasts themselves.

Much like meeting reports and our live tweets it can be very hard to condense a 3-4 hour meeting into the pertinent balanced points and reasoning, however it does appear there is a genuine interest from people to know what their elected representatives and public servants are up to.

Unfortunately we have not been able to feed back (our fault) our test record of meetings and subsequent views on what does work or not – however we do note the uplift in cost to move from a six month archive to a 12 month archive limit in cost, and would be confident that if the raw files were kept by Wrexham Council a collaborative effort to place them on Youtube for perpetuity could be possible at very low cost.

The report will be discussed by members of the Democratic Services Committee at 4pm on Wednesday 7th February. A final decision is expected to be made at the Full Council meeting later this month – which will be webcast!

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