Years of argument about the wisdom of taping or broadcasting proceedings, and worries about technical feasibility, were settled last Thursday (2 October) when Andrew Harrison, a local resident, simply set up his video camera and hit the record button.
He was taking advantage of the new openness regulations passed by Parliament in the summer outlawing the prohibition of recording local council meetings. Like many local councils, Ledbury has clung determinedly to standing orders forbidding the recording of any of its meetings, even though it had the power itself to grant this.
Contrary to fears, Andrew’s initiative didn’t cause the roof of that serenely ancient building to come crashing down mid meeting. Instead, debate was orderly and unremarkable, taking place in just the way it always has.
The tape was made using an elderly digital video camera without external mike situated at the back of the room. The footage is not super high quality because of low lighting levels and difficult acoustics in the Market House, but the result is a clear and watchable record of the meeting.
Some councillors spoke clearly and passionately, others muttered inaudibly, some were crisp and to the point, others rather more prolix. One of the by-products of the exercise might be that town councillors (and I include myself) will be more aware of their presentational style in meetings and consequently sharpen up their delivery for the benefit of the public and their colleagues. Time will tell.
Undeniably, a lot of town council proceedings hardly make for rivetting viewing. What we can expect however, is that on topics of concern, members of the public will be fascinated to see first-hand what is actually said and by whom. It is to be hoped that the days of mangled third hand accounts and disputed claims arising from town meetings, are a thing of the past. What we have now is a true record.
The very positive benefit of a video record of meetings is for local democracy. Anyone with access to the internet will now be able to know precisely what their elected representatives are saying and deciding on their behalf. Armed with that knowledge, they will be able to make informed choices at election time.