Half of Welsh Councils are now webcasting proceedings – Flintshire trial to start this week.
Local Government and Government Business Minister, Lesley Griffiths, has welcomed the news and praised the progress made by Local Authorities in Wales in improving the openness and transparency of Local Democracy.
Blaenau Gwent became the latest authority to launch its webcasting service when it aired the planning committee proceedings earlier this month.
The Vale of Glamorgan has also announced it is due to start broadcasting its meeting on the internet shortly.
They join twelve other authorities: Carmarthenshire, Cardiff, Torfaen, Monmouthshire, Powys, Wrexham, Swansea, Ceredigion, Denbighshire, Anglesey, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Newport in opening up their proceedings on the internet.
Whilst the public have been able to watch the House of Commons on television over 24 years, local councils have been reluctant to open up their own doors to camera’s.
Peter Evans, Flintshire County Council’s Democracy and Governance Manager has told Deeside.com that a trial is due to start this week with the recording of two meetings.
Each Welsh local council has been handed £40,000 by the Welsh Government to enable them to investigate the use of remote attendance and webcasting of meetings, council’s have until 31st March 2014 to produce a written report on the meetings at which there had been recording and remote attendance.
Flintshire councils two trial meetings will be recorded on Wednesday an posted onto the council’s website the following day.
Failure by councils to meet the March deadline will lead to them having to pay the £40,000 grant back to the Welsh Government.
Deeside.com is awaiting clarity on Flintshire council’s position with regards to public filming, Deputy Leader of Flintshire County Council told us he was “all for meetings to be filmed I will raise the issue” which is a slightly different conversation to webcasting, however equally as important.
A new law was put before Parliament which will will enshrine in the law the right of residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-press-freedom-law-to-open-up-town-halls
There doesn’t appear to be any sign of a similar law being drafted by the Welsh Government, who have opted for the rather more controlling approach of funding local council webcasting services.
Eric Pickles challenged the Welsh Government last year to open up the ‘digital doors’ to the public following a string of high profile incidents in Wales, which included a blogger being arrested and handcuffed by the police for filming a council meeting in Carmarthenshire, and Wrexham council also banning the use of twitter by a journalist in a council meeting.
Mr Pickles said;
“Modern technology has created a new cadre of bloggers and hyper-local journalists, and councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules.
“Councillors shouldn’t be shy about the public seeing the good work they do in championing local communities and local interests.
“I challenge the Welsh government to give taxpayers in Wales the same rights as those in England now have, and stop the scandal of free speech being suppressed in Wales’ town halls.
Some progress in Wrexham was been made recently, our Sister site Wrexham.com were the first to film and publish a Wrexham council meeting last month: Wrexham Council Meeting Filmed For First Time
Deeside.com has been in touch with the council with a view to collaborating on the broadcasting of meetings, something which is happening in other parts of the UK, and is gaining a positive reaction, collaborating is seen as a far more progressive approach to opening up democracy and meetings.
Hyperlocal website Lightmoor Life have been working with Telford and Wrekin council delivering live broadcasts of council meetings, you can read the background story here: Bringing council meetings closer to our community
Aswell as the £40,000 handed to each council for webcasting, community Councils were also allocated £500 each to establish websites. while we are yet to see any sign of a website from Shotton town council and Queenferry community council, Sealand community council recently launched their new website, while Connah’s Quay town council has had a ‘refresh’
Lesley Griffiths AM said;
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“Openness and transparency are essential to democracy and play a vitally important role in encouraging everyone to take an interest in local politics, get involved themselves and help improve local services. I am delighted Local Government in Wales is making such excellent progress in this field.
“The Welsh Government has led the way by funding County Borough Councils to broadcast council proceedings and it is wonderful to see such a positive response, with over half of Local Authorities having already put this support to good use. I urge the remaining authorities to follow suit and install webcasting equipment as soon as possible.
“I am also very pleased nearly all County Borough Councils allow blogging and tweeting from their public galleries and Chambers. Social media is an evolving world and an excellent tool which should be embraced. There is no legislative barrier to councillors or the public using social media or filming during council meetings. Allowing filming and blogging is a matter for each Local Authority to decide for itself but I urge all Councils to give this matter serious consideration.