Kirklees Council is embracing the future by webcasting meetings. Local government reporter BARRY GIBSON finds out if anyone is watching
COUNCIL meetings usually begin with a warning from the chairman that everyone in the room must turn off their mobiles to stop an annoying ring tone from interrupting the democratic process.
But the last few monthly meetings of Kirklees have seen senior politicians furiously texting away – as part of the democratic process.
Leading councillors have texted their running commentary to micro-blogging website Twitter as the meeting progressed.
And people watching the meeting live on their computers also joined in with their thoughts on proceedings.
Clr Andrew Cooper, who leads the Greens on Kirklees, is a big fan of Twitter and was sending live updates from council meetings long before it became official policy.
The Newsome man said: “I’ve been reporting on the meetings through Twitter. You can see what councillors are thinking – it’s a commentary on the meeting.
“A lot of young people use Twitter to get information. If we want to engage with them we have to use some of the media they use.”
Kirklees figures show that seven people took part in the first live Twitter coverage of a council meeting on October 20, sending 80 messages, known as tweets.
But the following meeting on December 8 attracted 27 people, who sent 200 tweets.
The meetings have also been webcast live on the council’s website.
Some 993 watched the debut transmission on May 26, with 710 people watching later.
The June 23 meeting attracted 195 viewers, with 731 watching the archive footage.
In October the number of live viewers climbed to 251 with another 398 watching a recorded version of the meeting.
And this month’s meeting attracted 623 live viewers and 200 people to the archived version.
But Clr Cooper admits that democracy is not always an attractive sight.
“At times I don’t think it’s a good spectacle,’’ he said. “Politics in the raw is not always a pleasant sight.
“Councillors sometimes forget the camera is on them.”
But the Green councillor still believes that webcasting is a good idea.
He said: “You usually get a handful of people turning up to meetings – there’s very little engagement.
“People are busy, they don’t have time to come to the town hall and they may want to dip into meetings.
“There were more than 600 people logged on at the last meeting and that’s got to be positive.
“It’s important people can see what decisions are made.”
Kirklees leader Clr Mehboob Khan is another of the council’s tweeters – and a believer in webcasting.
The Greenhead Labour man said: “The number of people watching the webcast is far more than the half a dozen who turn up in person.”
Clr Khan doesn’t believe the prospect of hundreds of people watching has altered councillors’ attitudes.
“I haven’t changed my behaviour and I hope others don’t either because people ought to see councillors in their true form,” he said.
“The majority of councillors take their jobs seriously and are very well behaved. There are times at council meetings where there is humour and it’s quite entertaining and there are times when it’s very serious, for instance when we’re discussing child protection issues.”
Clr Khan said the council hoped to make other meetings available on its website. He said: “We are also going to webcast Cabinet meetings which happen much more frequently than full council meeting and which will show people democracy in action.