Agenda item

The Webcasting of Meetings - Future Options

The Committee is asked to note the current update provided in relation to its webcasting equipment in the Council Chamber and is asked to approve that Options 1, 2 and 6 set out within the report are approved, with Options 1 and 2 being added to the Council’s capital programme.



The Committee received a report from the Group Head of Law & Governance and Monitoring Officer which had been compiled by a group of Officers working on exploring options for Members to consider in looking at the ongoing use and the future of webcasting and associated costs.


The Committee was advised that the Council had been webcasting its formal public meetings since 2018 as did many other local authorities and that this was now widespread practice and had become an important and easy way of opening and making more transparent decision making. It also offered an easy way for members of the public to view meetings without the need to physically attend them. This benefitted those that could not attend meetings due to varying reasons. The webcasting of meetings also supported the council’s continuing engagement to reduce physical travel as part of its carbon reduction action plan work.


The Council currently webcast live all its Full Council and Committee meetings using an audio-visual system that was purchased in 2014. The age of that equipment was severely affecting its reliability and performance and was making it increasingly difficult for the current provider and manufacturer to support the ageing parts of the system. 


A Member session had been held on 4 March 2024 to explain to Members the intricacies and operational/practical requirements of this complex system and to identify the parts of the audio-visual suite that now required urgent upgrade to ensure effective webcasting. The report set out the different options available and recommended to members by the Officer Group. In recommending options, Officers had balanced what was critically needed against what could be possible with a fully modernised system, bearing in mind the current financial climate. It was outlined to Members that to not update the ageing equipment would result in a system that was rapidly deteriorating suddenly reaching end of life meaning that the Council would no longer be able to webcast its meetings at some point in the future and would therefore not be able to continue supporting the public access highlighted earlier. The Group Head of Law & Governance and Monitoring Officer also explained to Members the unseen amount of time that was spent by the Committee Services Team and the ICT team in setting up the equipment and testing it prior to each meeting held. Modernising the equipment would reduce this unnecessary impact, which would not change if Members chose not to pursue the options recommended.


          In finalising his presentation of the report, the Group Head of Law & Governance and Monitoring Officer paid particular thanks to the ICT Operations Manager and the Committee Services Manager for their work in exploring the options presented and for compiling the report to Members.


The Chair invited questions from Members. One Member confirmed that he could not support the recommendations as he could not approve spending this amount of money on technology at a time when staff redundancies were being made and internal IT budgets were being cut.


A Member expressed concern that the webcasting statistics for external viewing were not significant, meaning that Members needed to prioritise whether enhancing and sustaining public engagement in this way was a priority and at a time when the Council was making financial savings. A view was expressed that if Options 1 and 2 were agreed, more work needed to be undertaken to improve public engagement through webcasting. Councillors were concerned that the cost of options 1 and 2 would require borrowing and what the implications would be.


Members thanked the ICT Manager and the Committee Services Officer who had spent time to explain the equipment and how it functioned on 4 March 2024, as this had provided helpful understanding.


Members highlighted that it was important to consider how long any upgraded system would last and if the Council chose to dispose of the Arun Civic Centre in 2-3 years’ time whether the upgraded equipment could be removed and installed elsewhere. It was confirmed that the webcasting equipment could be removed and located elsewhere.


Varying other views were made. There were Councillors who felt compelled to accept the options proposed.  This was because the provision to view meetings live was seen as a vital tool that encouraged and promoted local democracy. Members agreed that it provided residents with greater access to decision making and that this level of openness was an important part of local governance. There was concern about the cost of borrowing and the Group Head of Finance and Section 151 Officer was asked to provide an opinion. He stated that he understood the concerns of Members and referred them to Paragraph 8.1 of the report where he had provided his advice. This was a relatively small project and so borrowing £61.5k was more manageable and could be funded through capital receipts.  The ICT Manager confirmed that the upgraded equipment would last longer and potentially for up to 10 years.  A five-year warranty on the hardware would be provided.


          Debate continued regarding Option 2 which was to replace and upgrade the 14 desk mounted screens in the Chamber and whether this was necessary and what would the benefits be rather than using the IT equipment provided to Members. It was explained that the replacement of these screens would improve the viewing experience for Members and Officers and would provide clearer sight lines in the Chamber. The non replacement of these screen was seen as a health and safety risk due to eye discomfort and strain, headaches and fatigue caused by blurry screens and disturbed vision.  This observation was agreed by those Non-Committee Members present who were also Members of the Planning Committee, due to the length of meetings and the multiple presentations provided at meetings.






Discussion returned again to borrowing the project cost and what this would mean for the Council in terms of final cost and for how long interest may need to be paid. The Group Head of Finance and Section 151 Officer confirmed that he would provide a response as to what the full amount of borrowing and the term would be.


Returning to the viewing statistics, a member asked for reassurance that work would be undertaken in terms of publicising the webcasting links and making them more accessible to members of the public and easier to find to achieve wider public participation. An assurance was provided that this work would be undertaken. 


          Having had the recommendations proposed by Councillor Oppler and seconded by Councillor Nash,


          The Committee


                     RESOLVED – That


(1)  Option 1 – to upgrade the current video matrix, touch screens and audio-visual distribution is approved;

(2)  Option 2 – to replace the 14 screens on the desks in the Council Chamber is approved, with a cost of £61,500 for Options 1 and 2; and

(3)  Option 6 – to procure the current webcasting and maintenance contract for another year from July 2024 is approved.


          The Committee


                     RECOMMEND TO FULL COUNCIL


That Options 1 and 2 at a value of £61,500 be added to the Council’s Capital Programme.


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