Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

Ipswich Borough Council refuses to webcast meetings

8 Comments

webcasting council

Last night, at the meeting of all councillors on Ipswich Borough Council – also known as Full Council –  I took the opportunity to take my campaign for webcasting this meeting and other council public meetings directly to the Labour Administration leadership.

At the beginning of every Full Council there is time set aside for councillors and members of the public to ask Executive Committee members and Chairmen of Committees questions – this is called Council Questions.

I asked Councillor Martin Cook, Labour’s Resources portfolio holder including responsibility for IT, the following question:

Jacqui Thompson, a political blogger in Labour-dominated Wales, was arrested for filming a public meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council.
Hopefully in England we value democracy a little more but could Cllr Cook tell me if Ipswich Borough Council intends to follow many English local authorities and start webcasting their public meetings?

Cllr Martin Cook

Cllr Martin Cook

Cllr Cook said the idea of web-casting meetings was “conceptually attractive” but the borough’s webcasting equipment (what equipment!?!?) was not adequate enough and therefore it would be “difficult to see and hear councillors”.  The cost of purchasing and installing equipment was something Cllr Cook felt was not possible at the present time. The portfolio holder went on say Ipswich Borough was located in a “narrow geographical area” and residents were no more than 15-20 minutes away from the town hall. There is also supposedly no demand from the public for webcasting meetings.

Council Questions are strictly controlled within tight procedure rules so a debate on web-casting cannot be started, only a question asked with an answer received.

Therefore, I am replying to Cllr Cook’s comments for the first time.  Cllr Cook’s initial comment about existing equipment was a bit bizarre. I have no idea what he is talking about. From my understanding, the Council has never purchased web-casting equipment. Please do feel free, Cllr Cook, to use the Comments below to clarify this.

From the research I have carried out, the cost of purchasing the necessary equipment and installing would be £20,000 – £30,000 : this is not a bad price for bringing more residents into the democratic process. Once set up, equipment maintenance would be minimal. The public gallery at Full Council is almost empty with, in the main, the people attending being ex-councillors, Suffolk County Councillors, bloggers, Mr Geater from Ipswich Star and council civil servants. Increasing participation, albeit electronically, has to be a good idea.

On the comment the borough is constrained within tight boundaries where most people can reach the town hall quickly, I don’t see that as a valid reason for refusing to introduce web-casting. Many boroughs in London have similar boundaries, albeit with larger and more concentrated populations, and places like Camden and Haringey webcast their public meetings.

I don’t believe Ipswich Borough Council have conducted a survey asking residents if they would like to see meetings webcast. Perhaps they could use the Council’s propaganda sheet, The Angle, to ask residents what they think of the idea. They may be surprised by the results!

Local democracy is frankly not as transparent and accountable as Westminster politics, primarily because the media tend to focus more on national government rather than on town halls. Webcasting helps to strengthen democracy at the local level and should be embraced by all councils to ensure corruption and wrongdoing is kept at bay. It is particularly worrying that Cllr Martin Cook works for BT but still thinks it is not a good idea to deploy tried and tested technology into the council chamber to help local residents become more connected to the decisions being made in their name at the council.

The campaign goes on.

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Author: gavinmaclure

IT professional; political blogger, former Conservative councillor

8 thoughts on “Ipswich Borough Council refuses to webcast meetings

  1. This is a campaign which I fully support and I will be writing to the leaders of all councils in Suffolk encouraging them to implement the idea. Implementation of this would be healthy for democracy and might encourage more young people to get involved in politics. It will certainly help to engage with young people.

    What I think particularly interesting in Cllr Cook’s reply though is when he says about the size of the Borough. What he says is true, but the fact that many members of the public do not turn up does not mean that they are not interested – it simply means that they were not able to come to the meeting at the time it was being held, perhaps because of work or education. I see no reason why Ipswich Borough Council cannot make this small investment.

  2. It would be an even smaller investment for the County Council, since they already have the audio/visual equipment and it is already digital and online – all they need is the technical position to point it an IP address that is outward looking rather than internal.

    IBC need to update their audio equipment anyway. Wednesday night’s meeting was appalling as ever. The acoustics of the Grand Hall in the Corn Exchange were dreadful and some softly spoken councillors couldn’t be heard very well – and when Cllr’s Ellesmere and Terry were shouting at each other nobody else could hear a word they were saying. Including Cllr Terry it seems.

    Democracy is worth paying for. Access to democracy is worth paying for. A more cynical person than me would suggest that Labour don’t want people seeing what they say in council meetings because they would be less likely to vote for them, but I think that is unfair. Indeed the Tories would likely lose just as many votes! Council meetings are hardly an edifying spectacle.

    If you move to all out elections once every four years, so the electorate can actually kick out a council they don’t like, rather than voting overwhelmingly against them but remaining stuck with them. That, more than anything, reinforces the idea that your vote means nothing. Of course it would also save at least £200,000 on election costs, which could be put to some very swish A/V equipment indeed!

  3. Pingback: New law could see councils forced to allow webcasting | Gavin Maclure's Musings

  4. Uttlesford District Council recently commission us to develop an audio only live streaming and recording system to improve community engagement. A bespoke ‘Chairman’s console’ is used to start, pause and stop the stream and also to display listener numbers (current and peak).

    Meetings and agenda items are automatically imported from the UDC content management system. ‘Chapter tags’ are added during the meeting so people looking for particular items later can skip straight to the relevant section of the podcast [http://www.audiominutes.com/p/udc].

    No additional Council staff are required to operate the system.

    We’d be delighted to present this affordable option to Ipswich Borough Council too – who should we contact in this respect?

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