Wrexham Council today voted to allow a pilot video webcasting of certain types of meetings in a twelve month trial funded by the Welsh Government.
The Council Executive Board voted in favour of webcasting Planning meetings, Executive Board meetings and Full Council meetings, which would allow members of the public to watch the meetings as they happened from the comfort of their own homes.
The Welsh Government have allocated £40,000 to each principal council in Wales, which amounts to 22 councils across Wales.
The Government have been strongly encouraging authorities to embrace the concept, and broadcast their meetings online and allow remote attendance at meetings. In support of this they have allocated grants amounting to £1.25 million across Wales for local authorities to:
- Broadcast all/some council meetings.
- Arrange for remote attendance by councillors at council meetings.
- Provide funding to community councils to assist them with the development of websites.
Last week a workshop was held for councillors to discuss, and find out more about potentially webcasting meetings.
Councillor Malcolm King said: “Basically we moved from Officers being pretty skeptical, to being fairly enthusiastic and in support after seeing the potential to use as a tool to communicate much better with the public.
“One of the key things is public don’t feel involved in the decision making process. One of the key objectives is to form a more meaningful relationship with decsion making process. also staff don’t feel as though they are involved enough.
“The recommendation is to take up the money and use it to pilot a video system, for Exec Board, Full Council and Planning.”
It is hoped that by showing the meetings online, people will feel as though they have a bigger part in the decision making process than what they do now. The decision to webcast the meetings was praised by one councillor, who said many people work during the day and cannot attend these meetings. Webcasting will allow people to see the decisions we make.
Councillor Carole O’Toole said: “I attended the workshop and came away reassured that the way we are reacting is the right way forward. I am relieved we will be putting more energy, and time into the webcasting system. I am optimistic this will make us engage with the public.”
Also discussed was the possibility of remote attendance, with Cllr King saying: “I’m afraid to say this is something we are enthusiastic about it, as its ‘unworkability’ is quite considerable. So we are not proposing to go into it with same approach as webcasting.”
One councillor related back to the infamous councillor iPads, saying: “The councillors have iPad and we have Facetime. I don’t think it should be frequent, but there is a facility that costs nothing, that we already have and that we can use.”
However it was mentioned that this would not be possible due to technical problems with ‘legal arrangements’ into members and meetings. Cllr King said: “The technology is there to do it, but to make it work you have to have a member of staff there to facilitate it.”
Amusingly it was joked that there are members of the board who are willing to fly around the world to try this out!
One criticism of potentially webcasting meetings was the timing of the grant from the Welsh Government, with some councillors believing that in the current economical climate with the cuts that are being made, that the money offered by the Welsh Government could be better spent elsewhere. Councillor David Bithell described the timing of the Welsh Government as ‘really poor’, adding ‘do they want to webcast, or do they want to support public services?’
Councillor Bob Dutton said: “It’s odd what the Government choose to inflict on us sometimes. There’s no money to rebuild roads but money for this. I’m not against transparency, but it’s time the Welsh Government took their priorities seriously.”
Speaking about the investment from the Welsh Government, Councillor Mark Pritchard said: “If the Welsh Government want to invest £40,000 for new technology in Wrexham I think we should take it.
“It’s about transparency and openness, and I think our constituents should be allowed to go on the web and see the decisions we make and why. I think we should modernise.
“For me, let’s use it and embrace it, and let the people in Wrexham see us making decisions.”
For the full Council report, the document is available to read on the Council website here.