Sheffield council meetings are open to the public. Anyone can come and hear what is being said and done by our elected representatives.
But how many people ever do this?
Lots turn out for the big issues but sometimes it’s only five or ten in the public gallery for the monthly full council. Other meetings like Cabinet, scrutiny committees and planning and licensing meetings sometimes have very few or no members of the public to observe proceedings.
I can’t blame the public for this. It is difficult to give up a whole morning or afternoon to wait for five minutes of something you want to hear. It is more difficult if you have a regular job, a disability or young children. And the conduct of meetings can make them pretty awful to sit through.
The Green Party councillors have campaigned for greater openness. In 2012, Cllr Rob Murphy proposed broadcasting of council meetings, and to allow people to make their own recordings. Both ideas were rejected by the ruling Administration. All other South Yorkshire authorities now have a proper, official online record. The advantages are many.
You can watch at home or work whilst waiting for the bit you are interested in to come up. You can check it online later, as there is a permanent record. It ends complaints that minutes don’t reflect what was said or leave out difficult questions altogether.
It also improves councillors’ behaviour. Green Party councillors always encourage respect for debate instead of the bickering and rudeness between the two big parties. From the council’s point of view, it shows a commitment to openness. It can also reduce the work of answering Freedom of Information requests one by one.
The cost is now fairly low and is something the Green Party has repeatedly included in budget amendment proposals.
Right now, a new working group is looking at making council meetings more accessible. I very much hope that webcasting will come out of it. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any more suggestions.