As a County and a Parish Councillor, I am all in favour of anything that engages people in what councils do, and more importantly to see how local decisions are made that affect them. There are many councils now who are starting to webcast their meetings, and others that have recordings (including Gloucestershire) of the council meetings. However, having listened to some of the recordings and seen a couple of webcasts, and been involved in quite a number of meetings, I do have two concerns, one is that they can be quite dull, and second that just dipping in and out of a webcast or recording, it is easy not to get the full picture of what is going on. Could this potentially do more harm than good? I am looking at the principle of web-casing meetings, rather than the cost, though that too is important.
Normally I am quite gung-ho when it comes to getting more people involved with what councillors do, if for no other reason, but to highlight the work that those that have been elected actually do on their behalf. However, I do feel that the cons may outweigh the pros when it comes to web-casting. The Pros are obviously opening up democracy, lowering the barriers to seeing what goes on at the local decision-making level. Also, members of the public will see what sort of discussions are had, and that they could easily be involved, especially at the parish level, but right up and down government.
The cons I think could be substantial. Even at the County level, the full council meetings can be a bit “Punch and Judy” with political posturing, but nothing like the farce that is Prime Ministers Question time, which quite frankly is an embarrassment. Seeing grown adults pointing, shouting and acting like insolent children, trying to score headline points is truly the worst of our parliamentary system. Why do they do it? Because that is the one time the whole media spotlight shines, and they all want to trip each other up and have it done on national Media. With webcasting, is there a risk that some of our more “headline hunting” councillors (some are bad enough at the moment) might be more concerned about how they are coming across rather that contributing to meaningful debate? Ont he other side, would it discourage other councillors who are perhaps not so enamoured with public speaking, to stay sat down instead of contributing. Not every councillor is elected for their public leadership/speaking, but for their ability to “get stuff done”.
Maybe this would be countered by web-casting all (within the lawful remit) meetings, not just the Full Council meetings. At the end of the day, the committees are where most of the work is done and seeing work being done there can be very good indeed. But b the same token, they are not “entertainment”, they are quite dull, unless your directly involved or affected by the meeting, therefore if your that interested, you would probably be there anyway.
There could be a huge difference between the councils too, Parish is much more local where County is more removed. If you tune into Parish, then there is a very good chance that almost everything will affect or be known to you, where County is such a wide remit, you may have less interest?
What do you think – would you tune in to see the Parish Council debate the local cemetary, or the County Council regarding school provision and waste disposal? What do you think the pros and cons are, would it be good value for money? Comment and let me know.