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Wrexham Council looks ‘to get out of the dark ages’ and modernise how it engages with the public

How does Wrexham Council engage with you, the public, more?

That was the question banded around by members of the democratic services committee while debating the meeting webcasting service contract.

The committee had been asked to approve an extension of the current webcasting contract up until January 2020 – along with purchasing additional bundles of 20 hours, as required throughout the year to stream more meetings.

However the conversation quickly turned into how the council as a whole can modernise how it engages with the public and increase the number of people who not only tune into watch meetings, but also create a wider interest in what councillors are discussing.

Currently the council’s webcasting service is provided via a company called Public-i, which offers streaming and archiving services to a number of local authorities across the country.

As part of the package Wrexham Council webcast all executive board, full council and planning meetings from the main council chamber. In recent years several ‘public interest’ scrutiny committees have also

Earlier this year there were calls from members of the democratic services committee to extend the service to allow for the webcasting of all scrutiny meetings in a bid to increase transparency and boost public engagement.

This morning the head of the democratic services provide an update on the work carried out by a task and finish group, which was set up to explore further options after the previous meeting.

The officer explained that an ‘in house’ webcasting service was not possible due to the lack of resources and expertise needed to run the system.

Cllr Carrie Harper said that the council “needs to move on as it is stuck in the dark ages” and suggested that the option to install webcasting facilities into meeting room one was explored to allow for all meetings to be streamed online.

However Cllr Derek Wright questioned whether webcasting more meetings was “value for money”, noting that scrutiny committees that have been streamed due to “public interest” still aren’t highly viewed.

Cllr King said there was more the council could to to promote the work undertaken by councillors and to “promote democracy”.

He said: “We need to make it more accessible than it is. It is not just important to archive things, it’s how do we get out to the public what we do.

“We hardly do that as a council, but that’s the same with lots of councils. How do we get people interested in what we do?”

One suggestion was to make scrutiny meetings mobile and take them out of the Guildhall and into a public venue, with the likes of Gwersyllt Resource Centre and Tŷ Pawb cited as potential venues.

Cllr Mike Dixon said: “Meeting room one is not particularly pleasant and feels as though we are hiding away. I’ve always said we should use Tŷ Pawb for scrutiny committees. It may even help some councillors find out where it is.”

He added: “If you stand up and say something, it’s already public. So possibly some of the controls and great fears we have, forget them.”

But Cllr Davies pointed out that the IT facilities in Tŷ Pawb “aren’t fantastic”, explaining that she has to download documents prior to drinking some excellent coffee and doing some work at the venue due to the connectivity performance there.

Utilising YouTube as an archive for previous and future meetings was also noted by the head of democratic services, who explained that Public-i is currently reviewing its own archive – with the indication footage could be deleted.

The meeting was told prior to that there would be an opportunity to bulk export footage.

If footage was then uploaded onto Wrexham Council’s YouTube channel, it was acknowledged that a protocol review would need to be carried out to outline what the webcasts can and cant be used for.

However this option would mean there wouldn’t be a cost to Public-i for anyone wishing to access previous meetings.

Councillors agreed to press ahead with extending the contract for another 12 months, with plans to explore installing additional cameras and microphones in the council meeting room.

Our tweets from the meeting can be found below in reverse order…

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