Friday, January 22, 2010

Coming to a screen near you ... Belfast City Council?

Belfast SDLP Councillor Niall Kelly

One night back in early December I posted about Niall Kelly’s suggestion that Belfast City Council should start streaming its meetings online.

An SDLP Councillor for South Belfast, he brought a motion to the December Council meeting that was then forwarded onto their Strategic Policy and Resources Committee to look into. At the time he explained:

“This motion is an attempt to bring forward a new era of openness and transparency to Belfast City Council by ensuring that in the future the monthly council meeting is streamed online, through the council website. The technology for this has been around for many years and I firmly believe that it is about time the council embraced this opportunity and moved into the twenty first century.

Already more than 80 local authorities in England and a number of larger councils in the Republic of Ireland, including Dublin City Council, not only stream their meetings online but archive the meetings, allowing people to see exactly what goes on in the chamber, at a time that suits them. As the largest council in the North of Ireland, Belfast should be leading the way on matters such as this.

At present there is provision for members of the public to watch the council proceedings from the public gallery but for many people this is neither practical nor convenient. It would be much easier for people if they were able to watch what is happening in the council in a way that suits them best.

Anything that we can do to highlight to the public to let them know what we are doing is to be encouraged. At a time when the public are increasingly suspicious of the actions of politicians I believe that we should be thinking of new and innovative ways of showing them the positive work that we are doing.”

This afternoon, Niall Kelly published an update on his new blog* to explain that the Policy and Resources Committee had agreed in principle to the live streaming and archiving of Council meetings. (* His first attempt at blogging - Belfast Stoop - ended abruptly, but good to see him back on the horse.)

“I am very happy that the Policy & Resources committee has backed my call to stream council meetings online. Belfast City Council has a reputation as a progressive Council, which has led the way in taking informed, transparent decisions which provide the public with as much information as possible and today’s decision has shown this.

I am a firm believer that new technologies should be embraced and that Belfast City Council should take every step to ensure that we are open, transparent and accountable. As the first Council in the North of Ireland to agree to go ahead with live streaming Belfast is showing real leadership and a desire to engage with it’s citizens. I am hopeful that in 2011 this system will be up and running and that it will be the benchmark for transparency and accountability in local government.”

So while some councils still don’t publish their council minutes online (or have just started), and while the councils in Lisburn and Castlereagh wait to ratify their joint committee’s decision to publish minutes of their transition meetings, Belfast are forging ahead – in principle at least – with a new chapter of transparent, accountability … and perhaps also a painless way to drift off to sleep in the comfort of your own house if you end up listening in to a boring meeting!

1 comment:

Lila Gribben said...

I love the 'agreed in principle' comment. I wonder when councils agree to things in 'principle' are they just saying that so they can give themselves a few years before they have to do anything about it and because it's easier than saying an outright no?