Why council meetings should be filmed to allow greater transparency

Sam Murray, chairwoman of Gainsborough Community People's Forum, which is setting up the new school

Sam Murray asks: 'What is the real reason behind refusing to give greater transparency to the public?' - Credit: SAM MURRAY

Could a viral video of Handforth Parish Council be what Ipswich needs to finally get transparency?

After attending a few council meetings, I formed the view that the minutes of meetings did not truly reflect what actually takes place.

So from time to time, I can be seen at executive and full council meetings with a tripod and a mobile phone, filming them to share with the public.

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Sam Murray believes all Ipswich Borough Council meetings taking place in person after the pandemic should be filmed - Credit: Archant

Filmed council meetings are something that takes place across the country. However, Ipswich Borough Council refuses to do so.

On Wednesday, January 27, at full council, I asked the following question: “This pandemic has shown the benefits of technology and now more than ever are we talking about accessibility.

"We must seize an opportunity when it comes. What plans does the council have to finally make meetings more accessible to the public by filming them and putting them on YouTube when we go back to having meetings in person and not remotely?”

Councillor Meudec responded with a "no" and the reason being the cost of the set up.

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Predictably, I was quoted what seemed like outlandish costs to make it seem like this is simply undoable.

But if I can film from a mobile phone, the council could set up a camera. One camera is better than nothing. What is the real reason behind refusing to give greater transparency to the public?

Many of us had a good laugh at the now viral Handforth Parish Council meeting video, that had so much chaotic energy it needed it’s own TV show.

We were all left wondering if Jackie Weaver actually had any authority or not. But all joking and memes aside, this clearly demonstrates why official meetings need to be recorded.

I have no doubt in my mind that, once the minutes were written up about this meeting, the understanding and context of what led to the disruption would have been entirely removed.

So often have I been at meetings, have I seen similar situations that in my view have not been correctly recorded.

I myself, as a member of the public, received boos from a group of councillors when asking a question at full question. No mention of this was put in the official minutes.

The video of this meeting is a prime example of what true transparency to the public is. Sadly, in this case it didn’t show people at their best light. But warts and all members of that community can cast a judgement on the behaviour and work of their elected officials.

This is something I want for Ipswich. As an attendee of a number of these meetings, I have noticed a huge difference to council meetings since they went on Zoom and streamed on YouTube.

There has been more effort to engage by councillors, especially at executive - which, in person, can at times simply be a rubber-stamping exercise with little discussion of the content.

I also believe our councillors are better behaved now they know they are recorded. As members of the public, we are also able to look at the detailed information provided by councillors and research to fact check. All of these are vital to our democracy.

Councillors of Ipswich Borough Council should not hide away from this and should agree that transparency and openness is what they signed up for, instead of keeping the public away.

I am hopeful, now people are talking about the filmed meetings, it will give our own officials in Ipswich food for thought about what they’re depriving their own residents of.