Revealed: Cost to taxpayers of livestreaming Harrogate council meetings

Harrogate council has revealed how much it will cost to livestream in-person meetings - more than a year after councillors rejected the idea because of claims it would have been too expensive.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 6:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 6:10 pm
Council meetings have been held remotely during the pandemic but are now making a return to the Civic Centre.

The cost of equipment and installation this month will be £2,180 - considerably less than the "tens of thousands of pounds" which Conservative council leader Richard Cooper previously said the authority could not justify spending in January 2020.

At the time, it was Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Aldred who put forward the idea, even offering to pay for it himself, but he was not supported and the predicted costs were never made public.

That was until Harrogate resident Jerry Diccox submitted a Freedom of Information request which was initially rejected by the council due to "commercial sensitivity" reasons but later overturned by the data watchdog ICO (Information Commissioner's Office).

The findings revealed the council received three quotes, ranging from just over £5,000 to nearly £48,000.

By the time these figures were revealed in October, the council had already made an enforced switch to livestreaming due to Covid restrictions, although meetings have been held remotely and not in-person during the pandemic.

But after the government this month instructed all councils to return in-person and said livestreaming should continue until at least 21 June, Harrogate council has now taken its first steps towards installing equipment in the chamber.

A council spokesperson said: "The equipment has not yet been installed, but we hope it will be soon to enable the public to access meetings safely during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"No decision has been taken on whether the facility will be made permanent for any, or all, meetings."

Councillor Aldred said he believes livestreaming should now continue indefinitely because the pandemic has shown there is a "clear" interest in people being able to watch meetings online rather than in person.

He also said the £2,180 cost of equipment is "tremendous value for money".

He said: "On 10 May I chaired the first face-to-face meeting of councillors since March 2020. Not one member of the public attended this meeting and as it was not streamed in any form, they can now never see the proceedings.

"Residents are being denied their right to see how their council tax is being spent – this can not be right.

"As well as streaming these meetings live, what must be preserved, for the good of democracy, is the ability to view them at a later date."

Meanwhile, councillor Cooper, who previously spoke in favour of continuing some remote meetings, said it is wrong to compare the £2,180 cost with previous quotes on a "like with like" basis.

He said: "The quotes we had before ranged from a low-tech solution which required not much more than training to a complete solution with new equipment, training and a fully-managed service.

"The top figure of £48,000 was also for a three-year contract. A resident offered to do it for free via Twitter but then failed to come forward when invited to do so.

"We have gone with the cheapest option using technology we currently have and the cost is reduced further because of the expertise council staff have learnt during a year of streaming Teams meetings which, while different from live-streaming from the council chamber, has similarities which can be transferred to a new basic system.

"I still think that over £2,500, including VAT, is a lot of money when community groups, charities, the homeless and businesses need every bit of support we can give, but fortunately one of our councillors - Chris Aldred - offered to pay for the new system and I am very happy to take him up on his kind offer.

"It is very generous and I am sure that those who enjoy watching our council meetings join me in thanking him."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter