Council webcasts coming to Bridgend?

A report to Bridgend Council’s monthly meeting later this week (doc) will outline proposals to phase in the webcasting of council meetings. Interestingly, it suggests it wouldn’t be restricted to whole council meetings, but might include committees as well.

The Welsh Government made a sum of money available – said to be £40,000 – to each local authority to enable them to broadcast council meetings. Many local authorities already do, including Cardiff, Powys, Ceredigion, Torfaen, Swansea and, infamously, Carmarthenshire– though it’s hard to tell how long it will continue in the case of the latter.

Several other local authorities are mulling it over too, while others – like Neath Port Talbot – have rejected the idea.

It’s said broadcasting meetings will increase transparency, improve public understanding and scrutiny of local government, and improve both the standard of debate and conduct of councillors (which isn’t necessarily true). The report also suggests that recordings of meetings could be used to train officers and councillors.

BCBC don’t intend to broadcast meetings live for the moment, only a recorded version put on the website after being “processed by the communications department”. The report says the equipment to broadcast meetings is already in place and has been tested.

In terms of costs, a “small amount of expenditure” will be required to aid the development, with £1,000 of the Welsh Government grant mentioned. However, the report hints that once the initial funding runs out, the streams could stop.

The first recorded event will Holocaust Memorial Day on January 24th2014, with the intention of making a recording of the service available to the county’s schools and on the council’s website. The first council meeting scheduled for broadcast will be the Annual Meeting on May 14th 2014. The council will be given an updated report before that meeting next April.

Viewing figures for Cardiff and Swansea webcasts were provided. The figures point to an initial high level of interest that trails off, over several months, to a more steady audience in the hundreds or low thousands. That’s still significantly more than can be held in public galleries.

My monthly hits are often 10-20 times the reported figures for Cardiff Council’s monthly webcasts. So if I summarised a streamed meeting, it’s like to be read by a similar number to those who watch it live. I’m sure the same thing goes for Carmarthenshire Planning and Y Cneifiwr.

I want to cover Bridgend Council more often, and give anyone reading this a better idea of what councillors themselves are doing and saying, rather than relying on reports, minutes and whatever PR is deemed fit to put in the Glamorgan Gazette. The blog’s called Oggy Bloggy Ogwr after all.

Bridgend – while far from perfect – is no Carmarthenshire or Anglesey. Unless councillors say or do something really dumb I doubt they have anything to fear, in terms of public reaction, through broadcasting meetings.

In addition, BCBC recently updated its social media policy for elected members (available here). It’s mostly common sense stuff about how to set up social media accounts and how to deal with people on the internet.

I’m not sure how many BCBC councillors are already on Twitter, but I know Cllr. Luke Ellis (Lab, Pyle) and Cllr. Ross Thomas (Lab, Maesteg West) are.

You can also include recently-elected (Pencoed Town) Cllr. Tim Thomas (Plaid, Penprysg) and the Green’s Andy Chyba in that as prominent local aspiring politicians and campaigners. There are also things like Facebook, where I’m sure plenty of councillors at all levels have a presence.

Tim has been pressing for council broadcasts for some time, so that campaign is – fingers crossed – about to bear fruit.

However, it’s said councillors will be unable to use social media during council meetings – something that’s proved controversial in Wrexham – in order for them to “fully engage with the debate and meeting agenda”. Councillors will also be unable to use council equipment/networks for electioneering.

No Tweets from Angel Street for the time being then, though a comprehensive webcast should negate the need for that anyway.

BCBC have reacted slowly to this compared to the rest of Wales, but it’s a welcome step in the right direction if it does happen.