Greenwich Council meetings to be webcast: Will you watch?

Woolwich Town Hall, 25 February 2015
It’s been a long time coming, but Greenwich Council is all set to begin streaming video of its full council meetings online.

Councillors are being asked to formally back a year’s trial of the scheme at their annual general meeting on Wednesday.

It means anyone will be able to watch meetings live – or watch back recordings at a later date.

The move will “increase transparency and participation” and “ensure that the full and unedited version of events is available on the web”, a council report says.

It follows a change in the law last year which forced the council to allow members of the public to record or photograph meetings.

Past leader Chris Roberts had been hostile to opening up meetings – first insisting nobody would watch, then claiming it was for councillors to decide but without ever giving them the opportunity to do so. But successor Denise Hyland, who’ll mark a year in the job next month, is more keen on the idea.

A recent refurbishment of Woolwich Town Hall means the main council chamber is now kitted out to enable video recording.

This website has been recording audio from council meetings for some years, but has recently begun recording video of key moments – see a debate on the Tall Ships Festival from February and on Greenwich Time from March.

However, the old attitude still persisted as recently as January, when council critic Stewart Christie was told by a security guard to stop filming with his laptop in an incident which caused some embarrassment at Woolwich Town Hall.

Lewisham trialled webcasting in 2010, although hasn’t done so in recent years. Bexley started webcasting last year, using a low-cost system where cameras automatically focus in on whichever participant has their microphone switched on. Camden uses the same system, and its old-style chamber will give you an indication of what to expect from Greenwich.

Will anyone watch? Tweets from council meetings have generated some interest over the years, so there’s a number of people who’ll certainly dip in and take a look. But the clips I’ve put up – generally of questions from Conservative councillors to the ruling Labour cabinet – have mostly not got beyond two-figure audiences.

That said, it’ll be a godsend to journalists, who won’t need to schlep to the town hall to cover meetings. And I suspect councillors and officers will find it handiest of all, as they can watch footage back and see what was really said at meetings, as verbatim transcripts aren’t routinely taken.

One regrettable aspect of this move is that it only covers full council meetings, which tend to generate more heat than light – although in itself that can be interesting.

The real meat of the council’s business – particularly cabinet meetings and the planning board – take place in committee rooms at the front of the town hall and will still go uncovered by the new service.

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