On May 11th 2010, Cornwall Council entered the world of webcast by showing live a meeting of the full council. This as I have said before, was a massive step to open up the council for the world to see. It met with some resistance, but now this has all but disappeared.
Webcasting started with only the full council, but now it has been rolled out to Cabinet meetings and the Strategic Planning Committee. It has also been used on an ad-hoc bases for other important meetings. Sadly, webcasting is not in use for all planning committees, or the various scrutiny committees. To look back at my term of office, getting webcasting implemented is one of my top five achievements.
For the last two years, the viewing figures has grown to something I only could had wished for. For the period of:
- April 2011 to March 2012: Live views – 14,359 and archive views – 19,193
- April 2012 to Jan 2013: Live views – 18,400 and 119,768 and archive views
As you can see the increase in people watching live and more impressively, the archived meetings has increased massively . It just goes to show that people are interested in what the council does. A few meeting figures jump out, as on the 16th October 2012, 4,489 people watched live and 7,960 viewed the archive. This meeting was the No-confidence Motion. Another, a full council budget meeting attracted 1,905 live and 8,730 archived views.
However, there could be a sting in the tail. As post the budget decision and the large and avoidable cuts to the comms, strategy and localism budgets could see webcasting being stopped, or at a minimum reduced to only full council.
That would be a massive backward step in making the council more open. It would make it harder for the public to see their Councillor and council in action and more importantly vote at these meetings. It would also harm the council’s reputation for being one of the leading local authorities in making the council more accessible.
Cornwall Council is often criticised for falling to do something, or not meeting people’s expectations. I have often criticised the authority for this, but also I have given praise where it is due. At Tuesday’s council meeting there was an item on the agenda which Cornwall Council should be congratulated on.
This was on allowing media organisations to film and record (subject to a few rules) all council meetings. This is a huge step in the right direction in make the council more open to the public it serves. It all started awhile ago when I put in a motion to allow the webcasting to film the main council meeting. Without the support of Jeremy Rowe, Andrew Long and others, this motion would never have been passed. Webcasting now includes Cabinet, Strategic Planning and other important council meetings.
Now from the passing of the recommendations at Tuesday’s meeting, all future meetings can now filmed and recorded. This is good, because the cost of recording the meetings will be met by these media (BBC, ITV etc) organisations, and not the council. More importantly, it makes all meetings now more open and accountable to the public. Then again, I don’t think any media organisation will be there to film all meetings, or the whole meeting either.
However, it did not meet universal approval. There are many Councillors who think that recording any meeting is not constructive. I am not sure of why they would think this, but I have a few ideas.
In allowing media organisation to film and record meetings, Cornwall Council is taking the lead. Many other local authorities allow webcasting of their meetings, but only a handful of authorities in England and Wales allow the recording of them by outside media organisations.
So, well done Cornwall Council for taking the lead, and more importantly, setting the standard.
Anyone who follows this blog will know I am a firm, if not a little obsessive believer in Cornwall Council be as open as possible in the way it conducts it’s business. This sometimes not only involves changing procedures, but changing mindsets. The later, is generally the most difficult and frustrating part. One way the Council has been more open is in the introduction of web-castings of firstly full Council, and more recently Cabinet meetings.
Previously I have said the web-casting of meetings should not just stop at full Council and Cabinet, but we should also broadcast as many meetings as possible. This includes meetings like planning and those which have a strategic nature to the people of Cornwall, as not everyone wants to, or is able to travel to County Hall to watch a meeting.
Last time the expansion was tried it failed because of the misunderstanding on costs and other misconceptions. I do understand we can’t just have a unlimited budget for this, but even if we don’t broadcast live, we could still record and make those recordings available in the archive via the main Cornwall Council web-page.
This time I was hopeful that those issues raised before had been clarified and would not be brought up again. So after a short debate a vote was taken and the Council voted in favour (phew) of expending web-casting. A further step forward would be allowing the public to also engage more by social media during meetings, but if I am honest this might take more work in convincing the non-believers of this being a good idea.
The topic of web-casting will be coming back to the main meeting of Cornwall Council very soon, most probably at the end of March. The last time this topic was brought before Council it ended up in what can be best described as a farce. (Click HERE to refresh yourselves). From how the vote went last time, it seemed like a lot of Councillors did not/do not want to open up more meetings to the public.
My personal view is that all meetings should be web-casted. Maybe not live, but recorded and made available on Cornwall Council’s website. Maybe in time this will happen. The trick is now convincing those Councillors unsure (or worried how they would be seen) to extend the current scheme to take in other meetings. For a start, I believe Strategic Planning should be web-casted live just because of the strategic nature of the Committee, and most of these meetings are held at New County Hall. It makes it very difficult for people to travel the large distance to see how a certain topic is dealt with.
As to how the public feel about Council meetings being web-casted I have not had one complaint. In fact, most people said ‘well done’ and ‘now we can see what Councillors are doing and saying on our behalf’. I believe this is backed up by the viewing figures since May 2010.
The total viewing figures for the last 10 months are 46,957. This is for both full Council and Cabinet and is made up of live and archive is viewings. The further breakdown is live 677 and archived 40186. I believe these figures prove the Council was right (with a little persuasion from Cllrs Long, Rowe, Double and me with the original motion).
Let’s hope more meetings will be web-casted, but that will rest on those non-believers changing their minds and voting in favour of an expanded program.
The Web-casting Working Group met today to look at how things are going, and to prepare a report to full Council in February. Whilst the viewing figures will not give concern to the makers of Coronation Street they are still pretty impressive in Council terms.
These figures are that are the total of live and archive viewings for 2010
Council (main meeting) 3rd December - Total =2920
Cabinet 17th November – Total = 661
Cabinet 27th October – Total = 5915
Council (main) – 7th September – 216 (live) – 473 (archive) Total = 701
Council (main) – 27th July – Total = 2445
Council (main) – 15th June -Total = 14715
Council (main) – 11th May -Total = 10992
It is hoped that other meetings could be web-casted when this report with any further recommendations are presented to Cornwall Council. I really believe in allowing broadcasting of our meetings has made the Council more open and accessible.
Good news on web-casting. Because the amendment to the original motion on expanding web-casting to other meetings like Cabinet was so poorly thought-out, equipment is being installed that will enable the Cabinet meeting on the 13th October to be web-cast. The amendment did not say it could not be installed. You see what happens when a ill thought out plan is made up on the hoof. See previous post HERE
Hooray might be added, but there is a sting in the tail. Namely, that this equipment cannot be used for any other meeting than Cabinet. Unless this motion is brought back to Council to be changed. This is made a little harder because of the 6 month rule. That rule is no motion/debate can be brought back within six months unless its supported by at least 20 Members.
At least another meeting at Cornwall Council is more open and accessible.
I came away wondering how the success of web-casting turned into an utter shambles with a motion to extend the project. Now for less than £20k the web-casting has allowed over 17,000 people to view live and watch the recorded meetings of full Council. No one could argue that this is not a success in allowing more people access to a Council meeting.
So imagine today, a further motion (as was always the plan) to extend this to include meetings held in the Trelawney room. Mainly Cabinet, but also to web-cast the planning meetings held at County Hall before it’s rolled out to the other planning areas. So far, so good. Then it turned into a shambles with an amendment proposed by Cllr Eathorne-Gibbons.
Now I have no problem with amendments, its democracy. Sometimes an amendment can improve the original motion, but today was not one of those times. The amendment would have killed off web-casting with almost imidiate effect (he said he was in support of web-casting in his speech). I knew this and so did many others, but it was only when this was explained to Cllr Gibbons by the Monitoring Officer he had to change his amendment. You have to ask yourself how can you have any faith in an amendment when the author himself does not understand it.
What happened in the end was the amendment was passed 44-37 votes. This meant the web-casting will continue and would include the broadcasting of Cabinet (good), but it stopped the ability to extend the coverage that would include the room that the Cabinet is held. So you can broadcast it, but you can’t have the equipment to do this……
Also, as part of the original motion it was recommended was to give the Council some scope in broadcasting other important meetings that are in the public interest. This amendment stops that. We now will have to continue to do what we currently do using other media. The last few of these have cost over £3k per time.
The Council was also looking to hire out this facility, but that can’t be done because only Council and Cabinet can be broadcast using this equipment. This amendment has not made the Council more open and transparent and cost effective, but hamstrung it.
I do wonder sometimes.
Here are some other views Cllrs Folkes, Rowe, and BBC’s Graham Smith