Leader of Harrogate council speaks out on decision not to stream meetings online

The leader of Harrogate Borough Council has spoken out on the decision not to stream its meetings online.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 4:46 pm
Updated Monday, 27th January 2020, 4:47 pm

The borough council's General Purposes Committee met on Thursday to look into the pros and cons of the idea, which was first proposed when a motion was presented at December's Full Council meeting by Coun Chris Aldred (Lib Dem) calling on councillors to look to follow other authorities' lead and broadcast its meetings on the internet.

The committee talked over the idea but has decided not to recommend the proposal to the full council, as councillors claim it would be too expensive.

Coun Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, has said the decision not to stream the meetings was due to cost issues.

Coun Richard Cooper (Con), leader of the council, said: "It is very simply a cost issue. I cannot justify spending tens of thousands of pounds on streaming meetings that will be watched by two or three people at home.

"How could we tell people that we are not building the affordable homes they need because we decided instead to spend the money putting our meetings online.

"We have looked at other authorities and seen the very low numbers of people who view the meetings and I could not simply tell people that we were having to make cuts or closing leisure centers because we spent tens of thousands of pounds providing this for two or three people."

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service Coun Aldred (Lib Dem), who proposed the webcasting motion, said he was disappointed by the decision and believed the council simply "did not want to do it".

Coun Cooper denied this was the case.

He added: "That is nonsense.

"The meetings of the council are fully transparent and are open to the public to come along and attend.

"I have been contacted by someone on Twitter who has said they can broadcast the meetings for free so I will be looking into that and if they can, then great."

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service Coun Aldred said he was disappointed by the decision.

He said: "We already have cameras set up in the council chamber to provide an internal feed so I don't see why it would be such a big deal to start streaming meetings online for the public to watch?

"I just don't think the council wants to do it. In this day and age, all councils should be doing this.

"I think we will soon be in the minority of councils that do not stream their meetings online."

A report prepared for the General Purposes Committee gives the benefits and the drawbacks of streaming meetings.

The benefits include that it "makes the council more accessible and transparent to the public" and that the public is able to watch meetings "at a time and location which is convenient for them".

It is also felt that the recording would give a "more complete record" of meetings and would help people gain a greater understanding of the council's work.

On the other side of the argument, the report warns that some councils that have brought in webcasting have experienced drops in the numbers of public attending meetings in person.

Other worries include the cost in money and officers' time and reports from other authorities that journalists are the main viewers of the webcasts and this would reduce attendance at meetings and lead to fewer opportunities for "conversations" with councillors.

Coun Aldred said he disagreed with the report.

He said: "I'm not sure where they got the concerns about members of the public not turning up from as I rarely see any people come to the meetings anyway.

"Who wants to come out on a rainy February night when they could watch the meeting from their own home?

"I won't be letting this go when it comes back to full council I will be kicking up a fuss about it."

A spokesman for Harrogate Council said the motion to webcast was turned down "on the basis of the cost being prohibitive".

Coun Aldred added that no figure on the proposed cost had been made public at this stage.

Carl Gavaghan, Local Democracy Reporting Service