To consider the report of the Corporate Manager Democratic Civic Support.
The Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support presented the report on greater public engagement in the democratic process and webcasting of Council meetings in response to the motion passed by Council in February 2016. He advised the motion had been divided into the following:
Meetings being held elsewhere
The Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support advised that all of the Council’s official meetings take place in the Civic Centre meeting rooms with Council meetings being held at the Guildhall. Both venues were setup to hold the meetings with appropriate equipment and capacity. It was rare to be unable to accommodate members of the public. A recent exception was at Extraordinary Council meeting held at the Guildhall which cannot incorporate the same numbers as the Civic Centre. He highlighted the Guildhall, the oldest municipal building in the country that was used for its original purpose for local government. Both the Civic Centre and Guildhall are based in the city centre and have excellent access to parking and public transport links.
He commented that the concept of holding meetings in other parts of the city was not unrealistic with the following matters having been taken into account:-
· Finding suitable accommodation elsewhere (including the availability of all necessary equipment), including accessibility requirements;
· Transportation of necessary equipment which may not be available at the venue (e.g. microphones);
· Ensuring the appropriate public notice is given of the different location;
· The costs associated with the hiring of the venues;
· Staff time and costs in administering the booking of suitable venues, and ensuring their set up in time for the meetings themselves;
· The availability of accommodation elsewhere up to 18 months ahead of the meeting itself – there is no guarantee that the accommodation booked, would be suitable for the meeting required by the time the meeting came to take place.
He explained there had been no call to hold meetings away from the Civic Centre or Guildhall and recommended to continue to hold meetings at these locations.
Broadcasting of meetings
The Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support advised that the Council does not currently broadcast its meetings and recognised that some facilities were being used by more local authorities. He confirmed there was public interest in broadcasting, so members of the public could be kept up to date with news and events, however there appeared to be little interest in Council Meetings.
Another issue was that the meeting rooms at the Civic Centre were not permanently setup for meetings and were used for other meetings. The Guildhall was a Grade 1 listed building which prevented the installation of fixed equipment.
The Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support recommended trialling a system such as Facebook Live for a six month period at public committee meetings.
Question time to the Leader of the Council at Council meetings
The Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support informed Members there was currently no opportunity for questions by members of the public to be asked to the Leader of the Council at full Council meetings and referred to a council meeting held in 2015, in which a motion about this had been put to the vote and lost. He commented that not much had changed and referred to the report which highlighted numbers of public speaking at various committee meetings over a two year period.
The figures indicated that, apart from planning meetings, there was little interest from members of the public to address formal council meetings. He expressed his thanks to a member of the public who had attended this meeting and spoke under-standing order 19. However, he recommended, no new changes be made to introduce public questions at Council meetings.
The Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support discussed the minimal public attendance at council meetings. There was little interest shown from members of the public with the exception of the Planning Committee.
He advised that he would be working closely with the recently appointed Director of Communications & Marketing to maximise publicity and suggested adding meeting agendas to the weekly bulletins produced by the Director of Communications & Marketing to promote the meetings. He also referred to the question raised from the member of the public who spoke about the difficulty of using the Council website to locate information. He would liaise with the Director of Communications & Marketing to develop an engagement plan to help improve this.
In response to Members’ questions, the Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support responded:
· Questions to the Leader could be trialled, but it would need to go through the process of being put forward as a suggestion and would need approval at Executive and Council;
· The Guildhall was the council chamber and must be used for council meetings, including larger meetings. This could not be adjusted without changing standing orders;
· A larger venue such as the Corn Exchange or Riverside would be difficult to hire, as the council didn’t manage the Riverside and the Corn Exchange was very busy;
· Improvements were being made to access information, whilst the first priority was to improve public knowledge and interest;
· The recommendations, if adopted, should be given a six month trial period to obtain more information and be fed back to the Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee in six months;
· That in relation to other premises within the city which could accommodate Council meetings, the Corporate Manager Democratic & Civic Support as Returning Officer, struggled to find accommodation which met all the necessary accessibility requirements. It was felt that this would be the same when searching for suitable accommodation for Council meetings.
Councillor Musgrave raised a proposal to take the recommendations to Executive and have the opportunity to build on it further along. The motion was seconded by Councillor Baldwin.
Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee supported the report and requested Executive and Council to note and approve:-
(1) The current arrangements for the holding of all public meetings of the City Council be maintained;
(2) A simple trial for broadcasting of some Council meetings being undertaken with a view to the monitor the levels of interest taken up and report back to a future meeting of this Committee;
(3) The suggestion for public questions the Council Leader at the commencement of full Council meetings not be supported;
(4) The Corporate Manager, Democratic & Civic Support, work closely with the Director of Communications & Marketing to maximise publicity of the decision making process, including items on committee agenda as appropriate.