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…
Councillors seem keen to open up their debates and discussions to you the public. Two way street, you public need to take an interest too… ! 👀
Longish debate wraps up, webcasting recommended to continue and extend hours/meetings covered. Youtube as public archive sounds likely, however the nitty gritty on that will come at future meetings when protocols & policies are adjusted to catch up!
Wonder if all councillor speeches will end with “LIKE & SUBSCRIBE FOR MORE BANGIN’ CONTENT” ? #crepcheck PIC:
(Click for large)
Torfaen are doing what Wrexham seem to want to do, in terms of loading Public-i webcasts on to Youtube. This is their public video dump archive link Would mean all Cllrs become Youtubers! Flexing and Supreme hoodies to come to the chamber?!
Clr Dixon compares video use in Westminster, and compares at concerns back when that was introduced, adds ‘if you stand up and said it, it is public’, ‘make it easy for people to see what we do’.
Clr Alan Edwards says he remembers a Scrutiny meeting held in Rhos, so says idea of getting out and about is nothing new. Interesting debate on how the important scrutiny process gets public awareness.
That sparked a mini debate over if Scrutiny could become more of a travelling entity- so more portable webcasting gear could be required. Scrutiny now looking at themselves asking if people know about, or care about what they do. More engagement required, from you the public too!
Tŷ Pawb gets mention as possible Scrutiny base, Cllr Davies says the internet needs to get sorted there beforehand as she ‘downloads her work before going in’ – points out the excellent coffee in there. Clr Dixon says some councillors need to find out where it is… !
Cllr Baldwin has asked us to give thoughts on video platform. Our feedback was we use Youtube, but think key will be what usage rules/protocol there regardless. Used examples of election coverage etc link
Clr Wright says Chair’s / Vice-Chairs get viewing figures – and questions value for money on webcasts as the numbers are very low. Clr King counters by saying this is a way of ‘getting out’ to public – who might not even know the Council exists.
Cllr Davies says after the prime funding by Welsh Gov some councils bought kit & use Youtube. Others focused debate back then about ‘control’ to lock down the video content etc. Appears Wrexham has progressed and now about transparency with wider understanding of video content.
Cllr Harper reiterates strength of feeling from Task & Finish Group that Wrexham ‘should broadcast all scrutiny’ – with kit out of another meeting room with cameras that could come as soon as early next year.
Webcasting funding being debated. Welsh Gov kick started it now funded by councils themselves. 6 councils in north wales could look to procure Public-i system together to make it better value.
Clr Derek Wright speaks of some visits he’s been on to other authorities, wants Officers to get information on what other councils use and how expensive they are over the next 12 months. Officer says 12 in Wales use Public-i. 2 use Youtube, 2 other systems and 6 don’t at all.
Transcription being debated again – basically expensive to correct public-i’s record. Councillors seem unaware (and not being told) that Youtube will create auto created subtitles that can also be viewed as a full text transcription (automated not perfect) – for free.
Cllr Dixon exploring issue further in debate with Cllr King: “It maybe we do not need that. If you are going back to archive, you know what meeting it is. It is like looking at something on iPlayer.” Cllr Rob Walsh adds you can ‘push it along’ on Youtube to locate a topic.
Cllr Dixon unhappy with Youtube, “We would want it with the current functionality” or “it is just a youtube recording”. (Here is example from other day of Youtube with a bookmark bit via a council link )
Officer mentions convo with Public-i (webcasting provider) saying they intend to delete archives in future – but councils will get chance to export their archives. Indication why third parties controlling the public democratic/historic info of Wrexham could be a bad thing !
A few options will cost more money – Council Leader has previously encouraged this committee to challenge him / administration to find the money to make Wrexham Council more transparent via webcasting.
Using Youtube would require an update of the Council’s webcasting protocols, so that is also to be debated and possibly recommended later this morning.
Officer explaining to Councillors that some councils use paid webcasting systems, then after 6mths upload full meetings to Youtube. Cllr Baldwin enquires if video uploaded to Youtube is ‘safe’, as has concerns over councillor words ‘being doctored’.
In the Guildhall this morning to see what Councillors decide to recommend over webcasting of meetings – this meeting is *not* webcast, however in future such meetings could be webcast! Preview on link with some other ‘fun’ bits!