Posted by: John Brace | 11th May 2020

How have councils been coping with virtual public meetings in the last month and what public meetings are happening locally in the week starting 11th May 2020?

How have councils been coping with virtual public meetings in the last month and what public meetings are happening locally in the week starting 11th May 2020?

                                      

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Cabinet (Liverpool City Council) 7th May 2020

Mayor Joe Anderson (Liverpool City Council) Cabinet 7th May 2020

Mayor Joe Anderson (Liverpool City Council) Cabinet 7th May 2020

As public meetings of local councils move online to virtual meetings, after a month of the new arrangements I thought it was time to write a piece about different council’s approaches including where things have gone wrong or well.

Here however first is a list of upcoming public meetings (if you’re reading this when published on the 11th May 2020) in the local area and slightly beyond this week:-

Tuesday 12th May 2020

Liverpool City Council have a Planning Committee (also called the Virtual Planning Committee) public meeting to start at 9.45 am. It’s to decide 5 planning applications (although one has since been withdrawn making 4). The agenda and reports are published on Liverpol City Council’s website here. The meeting will be broadcast live, although at the time of publication the link to do so is not known (Liverpool City Council state it will be published later on the afternoon of the 11th May 2020).

Edited – 11.5.2020 21:53 Liverpool City Council have since publication published the link to watch the public meeting of its Planning Committee meeting on the 12th May 2020 starting at 9.45 am.

Wirral Council also have a Planning Committee on the same day but at 6.00 pm, the agenda and reports can be read here. Their meeting will be broadcast here using Public-I and also be available to watch after the meeting has finished.

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Thursday 14th May 2020

Knowsley Council has a Licensing Sub-Committee public meeting starting at 2.00 pm, the agenda and reports can be read on Knowsley Council’s website and it will be broadcast live using YouTube.

Lancashire County Council have a Cabinet meeting also starting at 2.00 pm, the agenda and reports can be read here and the plan is to broadcast the meeting using Skype. A link for that broadcast is not available at time of publication (despite being requested from Lancashire County Council).



So what’s gone well so far? Well councils (such as Wirral Council) that already broadcast their public meetings for live and subsequent viewing have fared better with less problems than those who are new at this.

It also provides challenges for recording meetings as instead of using a camera and tripod I’m experimenting with a free trial of Camtasia (screen capture software) which unfortunately introduces a watermark.

I tried filming the screen of the laptop with my camera – but the volume of the laptop isn’t good enough and the picture quality isn’t as good as the original due to glare from the laptop screen. I am looking into upgrading the Camtasia licence to a commercial one (which would remove the need for the watermark).

The other problem is public meetings now require an actual link to watch – sometimes councils don’t publish this and refuse to supply it on request by email – such as what happened before the public meeting of Liverpool City Council’s Mayoral Inclusive Growth Fund Committee last Thursday.

Regulation 13 of the legislation is quite clear that the press and public should have access to hear or watch the public meeting as it is broadcast, but it states the public meeting can carry on if there are no public present and essentially if only the participants of the meeting have a link to the video or audio stream it’s not a public meeting “open to the public” as is required by law.

The other point to make is the legal requirement is just to broadcast public meetings as they happen. Although some councils allow watching the video of the public meeting after the public meeting has concluded (such as Knowsley Council and Wirral Council have) this is not a legal requirement and some – to give one example of Liverpool City Council and its latest Planning Committee held last week are just broadcasting live rather than publishing it on their YouTube channel (or somewhere else online easy to find) after the public meeting has finished. Although it should be pointed out that Liverpool City Council did publish video of their Cabinet meeting last week on their YouTube channel so their approach is changing.

There have been some teething problems as councillors and staff get used to the technology. For example at the public meeting of Wirral Council’s Planning Committee last week, Cllr George Davies joined the meeting late as his computer was installing updates to Windows.

After a month though you’d hope that councils would have sorted out the teething problems – there have been fewer meetings than usual as many have been cancelled – the legal requirement on councils for an Annual Meeting in 2020 which would usually happen in May 2020 has also been dropped.

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Responses

  1. Are these meetings so packed they have to have Virtual meetings, surely a few members of a board can sit six feet apart and talk, its not like the whole country has this virus, 223 thousand at last count from a country with 66 million in it

    • Thanks for your comment.

      Well the Planning Committee meetings of Liverpool City Council are usually held in person the Council Chamber at Liverpool Town Hall (which is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic).

      However, from the previous meetings I’ve been to in person, there are a dozen councillors on the Planning Committee, a Liverpool City Council employee to take the minutes and around half a dozen other employees (ranging from planning officers, environmental health, traffic etc). So from Liverpool City Council so far around twenty. Then you often get ward councillors who wish to speak for or against a certain planning application during the meeting who aren’t on the Planning Committee – this can be between three and ten. So a total of twenty-six (minimum).

      Then when you add journalists (which varies – for example a planning application about Liverpool Football Club there will be more press interest) – so between two to a dozen. Then applicant/agents/developers (perhaps five), members of the public objecting (maybe three).

      So it does depend massively on how many planning applications are on the agenda, but a minimum usually of around forty people in total, but that can go to as high as a hundred? That can go a lot higher if there are controversial planning applications or a large amount on the agenda though.

      So hopefully that explains the coronavirus risk of if the meeting was in person – one person with it could infect the other 40-100 people there!


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