There has been some really interesting Council Meetings in recent times when you think about it.
In fact, whilst this blog has been in existence we have covered some good stuff.
The Dimensions fiasco, the mayoral referendum, the arrest of Mark Meredith, Roger Ibbs & Mo Chaudry, the transition board, the European elections, the council leader election and much more.
The actual Full Council Meetings can go on and on sometimes, but amidst all the boring bits there is some lively debates, great contributions from some councillors, some outrageous comments from certain characters and some funny contributions made from some of the more comedic in the chamber.
I like to see the political games playing out in front of me. The way the whips work [in those groups that have them] the seizing of the opportunities for political point scoring and the hard-line defence of those who face scrutiny.
What a shame it is then that this spectacle is only available to those who attend these meetings, those who sit in the public gallery, the press, oh and me [I’m sort of suspended in mid air in no man’s land on a table all of me own, neither a flag or a balloon!].
Councils all over the country are grasping the opportunity of reaching out into their communities and finding new ways to interact.
Here in Stoke we have the Council Website and the “ËœOur City’ magazine.
Many other authorities have websites that are pleasing on the eye, give more information and are far easier to navigate your way round that the Stoke.gov one. Have a look at this one from Torridge,[John Van De Laarschot current authority] how much better does that look? And a lot more user friendly too.
What about this one from Bristol, not only does this site look great but you can also watch important meetings and Full Council LIVE or watch an archived webcast at a later date.
A recent live webcast covering a particularly contentious issue was viewed by over 5624 people live and online! Not only could you watch the debate but you could click on the name of the speaker and access their biography.
Imagine that ““ that’s nearly as many people that go to the Vale to watch a game. That number would fill 25 average size council chambers.
Now that is community engagement!
But it isn’t only council’s like Bristol that are leading the way. Staffordshire also streams audio and video footage of their meetings and also broadcasts important meetings live.
Here back in Stoke, we don’t look even close to getting a make over of the council web site. We are nowhere near being able to access audio or video footage of council meetings. We have an electronic voting system in the chamber that I have yet to see in operation. The public address system is pants too! Most Council meetings are disrupted by the hissing and farting noises emanating from the speakers to the point that officers have to run around the chamber with radio microphones that most councillors can not be arsed to wait for.
It is relatively easy to stream audio over the net now. We have the technology at Pits’n’Pots to do this. The council PA system needs a drastic make over before anything can be done to improve things.
One of the Governance Commission recommendations was to get more people involved in local politics, well what better way than a web site that can actually show the public what goes on in these meetings. Better still these webcasts can be archived and accessed and viewed online at a later date.
I have been accused of constantly having a go at the BNP and I would admit this to a certain extent. But I feel they are duping the public into believing that they are hard at the “Ëœcoal face’ when indeed they bring very little to the debate.
I made a comment in an article a few days ago that they had made two contributions [both by the incomparable Cllr Batkin] in some 9.5 hrs of council debate. If that wasn’t bad enough they also failed miserably to see the meetings through, walking out way before the end, indeed a number of them [including Alby Walker- the leader] left half way through.
They get a tick in the school register for attendance but then play truant just after break-time! No finer example of their performance to date was the Council Leader debate when they marched out of the chamber when their man got knocked out, taking their bat and ball with them!
If these meetings were webcast or audio streamed the public would know this right away.
Yet to the public it looks as if they are fulfilling their obligations when in real terms they are far from it. A chair of a committee should be present in the chamber to move the minutes of their meetings. This is normally done at the end of the Full Council Meeting, but most of the meetings where I have been in attendance the y BNP chairs have been long gone when the time comes for the chairs to move their minutes.
We the public in this city are fed on scraps by local government. We are constantly accused of being negative, having “Ëœlow aspirations’ and being politically fragmented.
But is it any wonder that people don’t seem interested in what goes on in our city when the information is so hard to obtain? People rely on the Sentinel and this website to find out what is going on in our Council Chamber and what our officers are up to this week.
Our council have to invest in better communication tools that promote real public engagement. Let us see how our elected representatives perform in the arena of the Council Chamber. A webcast would show who the best orators are and who stays the course.
We could always go to a commercial break when Cllr John Davies gets to his feet and manages to make 5 minutes seem like half an hour. Only joking ““ honest!