Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Broadcasting Council Meetings - why all the fuss?

Yesterday Bradford Council met - the 90 Councillors (well most of us) gathered together to debate motions on cheques, post offices, the challenges facing the district, regeneration and litter. On the face of things it wasn't an extraordinary agenda - especially given these extraordinary times and the previous day's announcement of Bradford's central government grant settlement.

Everything started in the normal manner - the Lord Mayor made announcements, we stood in silence a remembered a recently deceased former Councillor and we welcome Russell Brown as the new member from the Worth Valley (succeeding Kris Hopkins the new MP for Keighley and from times now long past one Eric Pickles). We voted through a few procedural and technical motions, received a couple of petitions and dealt with questions to the leader.

And then - towards the end of our first debate - something quite unusual happened. We got an audience. Into the public galleries trooped a motley collection of protestors many clutching A4 posters emblazoned with the word "traitor" (sadly too far away from me to tell who or what was a traitor although I gather it was something to do the "The Cuts"). Believe me, dear reader, this is almost unheard of! We simply don't get an audience for our deliberations - over the years we've reorganised schools, closed libraries, accused eachother of terrible things and had some of the most unedifying rows. All without a real public audience.

Now I suspect that, for the protestors, this was their first visit to the (rather splendid) Council Chamber and some took the opportunity to take a few photographs. A not unreasonable expectation and hardly - even with the flash - an intrusion into the smooth running of the meeting. However, the Lord Mayor decided to tell them to stop taking pictures because they had not asked for prior permission (or at least that was what I think his reason was).

For me this response - as well as a rather over-the-top reaction to a couple of quite mild-mannered heckles and boos - illustrates our problem as a local democracy. And perhaps why the public don't bother to turn up. Our self-importance and overweening sense of occasion gets in the way of robust debate. For me - and I said this yesterday - there is no issue with the public taking pictures of a public meeting. And it's great that some members of the public actually turned up for a change (even if they all trooped out during my quite brilliant speech)!

We should encourage this engagement. We should welcome photography, smile a little at the odd heckle and should stick our proceedings up on the web for all to see. If that bunch down in Parliament can broadcast all their debates, I see no reason why Bradford Council can't do likewise. If we believe in openness and transparency, it's time to make more effort to show the public what it is we do on their behalf.

Install the web-cam, start tweeting and live blogigng the occasion - make it more engaging, more interesting and, maybe, a little more responsive.


1 comment:

@DavidWhe said...

This blog is one of the reasons I follow you! Well done - it is time for local democracy to become more transparent. I think you've hit one of the nails in your comment re self-importance and sense of occasion!