Torbay residents will soon be able to watch council meetings online as the local authority finally takes more permanent steps to make use of streaming.
Torbay Council’s cabinet agreed to a ‘trial’ period for live streaming meetings that will start in May and last until the end of July next year.
Councils were allowed to hold and make decisions in virtual meetings at the start of the pandemic. But since a High Court ruling in May last year, most local councils have had to meet in person.
However, this does not stop them from streaming meetings for the benefit of the public or councillors who may be unable to attend.
Many councils, including most in Devon, have made use of this right and have kept live streaming their in-person meetings, allowing the public to watch online.
Over the past year, the leadership of Torbay Council has insisted that this isn’t a good option for Torbay because of the cost and difficulty of setting up the technology in the council’s old buildings.
Since late June 2021 the council hasn’t streamed any of its decision-making meetings, not even with a rudimentary webcam as has been used successfully by some councils.
Council leader Steve Darling (Lib Dems, Barton with Watcombe) said it was “a pity” that the government didn’t allow local authorities to decide if they wished to hold decision-making meetings over the internet or in person.
Commenting on the new streaming trial, Councillor Mike Morey (Independent, Furzeham with Summercombe), cabinet member for infrastructure, environment and culture, said: “Why should we expect people to come here [Torbay Council] to a central point to take part in and listen to meetings?
“When we had Zooming, 12 months, two years ago, we had many more people taking part, whether that’s listening or participating.
“They could dip in and out of meetings as and when they had something of interest, whereas if they travel here they’ve got to sit through a lot of interesting conversation until they get to their actual item.
“I do think live streaming and hybrid meetings do go some way to bring decision-making back to the people.”
Deputy leader of the council Darren Cowell (Independent Group, Shiphay) said the move was “long overdue” as many people are unable or unwilling to attend meetings. It’s also thought that more councillors attended meetings when they were streamed.
There are no plans as yet to broadcast meetings of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee. Cllr Darling said: “This is a starter for ten and it is very costly as far as making this provision on a temporary basis and we need to get a longer-term solution for this.
If the pot will extend to overview and scrutiny then clearly we’ll do that. It’s about being realistic with what we have as far as the finances.”
The council has not publicly revealed how much the trial will cost but it is known to be spending more than £50,000.