Renewed calls to record meetings defeated by South Tyneside Council meetings

Renewed calls to explore the ‘video recording and hosting’ of more council meetings in South Tyneside have once again failed to win support.
South Shields Town HallSouth Shields Town Hall
South Shields Town Hall

In June a motion by opposition councillors to explore certain committee meetings being recorded and put online was rejected by Labour over concerns around “cost implications and the logistical problems it brings”.

Although the local authority’s full council meetings, where all 54 councillors are summoned, are broadcast live and hosted on YouTube, all other public council meetings are ‘in-person’ only.

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However a renewed bid was put forward to Thursday’s full council meeting for the issue to be referred to cabinet to be considered.

Signed by 13 opposition councillors, including independents, Green Party and Conservative representatives, the motion stated a “cost-effective approach” with “next to no initial cost” could be used.

They argued video recording and hosting key committee meetings would help increase public engagement and bring “improved openness, transparency and accountability”.

The South Tyneside committees proposed were those held in the Town Hall but outside the council chamber, including Overview and Scrutiny, Standards Committee and Constitution Committee and the Health and Wellbeing Board.

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Norwich City Council was identified as a local authority who already does this, with opposition councillors outlining how they had conducted a “trial” in one of the committee rooms using a smartphone and tripod.

Independent councillor Glenn Thompson, who launched the motion, said the move would improve visibility of council meetings and committees “so the public can see how, why and by who important decisions are made.”

He added: “The opposition is asking for debate and consideration of how we develop and improve public engagement, awareness and interest of what we do, and show what as a council we can offer our communities.

“This is important for improving transparency in decision making.”

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The move would initially look at recording and uploading to YouTube meetings in Town Hall committee rooms outside the council chamber as this would be “more practical”, but once established they could look at rolling it out further, he added.

Cllr Thompson claimed the trial which they recently carried out had a “one off cost of £23.42”, while they could also purchase a set of Bluetooth microphones to improve sound for “under £100”, or consider other methods of recording.

However Labour councillors disputed this cost, arguing they would need to purchase smartphones to carry out the recordings, which they claimed could cost “thousands”.

Meanwhile they added there would be additional pressures on “suitably skilled” staff to edit and upload the videos.

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Councillor Joanne Bell, Labour cabinet member for governance, finance and corporate services, also raised concerns there would be issues over potential sound quality and echoing in areas such as the Reception Room in the Town Hall.

She said: “All of these meetings are open to the public to attend should they wish to do so, there is still a considerable cost implication to this and a large drain on staff resources.”

She added the trial carried out and circulated by opposition councillors was “not the success we are led to believe”, with the video suffering from “extreme interference and loss of sound” in sections.

Labour’s councillor Doreen Purvis argued she doesn’t “think there is any demand from the public” for the move and she has “never once” been approached by any residents calling for meetings to be filmed.

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She said: “I think this is about showboating, I think it’s about grandstanding, I think it’s about ‘look at me, look at me, look at me’”.

Meanwhile councillor Ann Best, the council’s democracy champion, added there is “nothing stopping” councillors and members of the public attending and recording council meetings.

Cllr David Francis, Green Party group leader, said they were simply asking for the topic to be “explored and considered”.

He said: “I can’t understand why anyone would deliberately choose to make an uninformed decision rather than gather the information, look into the possibilities, and then make a decision.

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“Accessibility is important, so people that can’t attend meetings physically in person for any number of reasons should not be excluded from taking part in local democracy and seeing the decisions that are made in their name.”

He added recording meetings could also help reduce instances of “poor behaviour” in meetings from councillors across the chamber and make them “think twice”.

Independent councillor Paul Brenen added there can be “no further excuses” for not recording and uploading the meetings, and disputed the idea it would have a significant impact on officer time and resources.

In total 13 councillors voted for the motion, with 28 voting against it, meaning it was not agreed and will not be considered by cabinet.

The recent debate on video recording and hosting council committees is available to watch via South Tyneside Council’s website.