Unless you work in local government there’s a fair chance you’ve never ventured into the public gallery at your nearest town hall to see your local council in action.
It’s not exactly ‘standing room only’ at your average council meeting and even fewer hardy souls attend the various committee meetings that take place up and down the country day in and day out.
We’re told that’s because ‘nobody really cares about local government any more’ but I’m not convinced that’s the case.
Our experience in Birmingham is that many people are interested; we simply need to improve access and promote our day-to-day business more effectively.
Birmingham City Council is one of a growing number of local authorities that now streams meetings live on the internet. We’re not the first, other trailblazing councils went before us and I tip my hat to them. What they, and now we, have found is that interest in local politics is alive and kicking.
Following a successful year-long trial streaming Full Council meetings online (with our own Blue Peter-esque homemade solution) we extended the service to other high profile council meetings in February.
We now cover Full Council, Cabinet, Planning, District Committees and a range of scrutiny committee meetings – offering easy access to Birmingham residents unable to attend meetings in person.
In addition to watching meetings live, viewers can search archived broadcasts for specific debates, reports or speeches. The meetings are time-stamped to make searching simple. We also link to all relevant reports.
The new system from leading specialists Public-i proved immediately popular, recording over 40,000 hits for the first 20 meetings.
The service helps us promote local agendas: our first district committee meeting attracted an audience just shy of 1,800. It also shines a spotlight on the vital work performed by scrutiny: our first scrutiny meeting recorded almost 2,000 views.
Viewers can provide feedback and comment on the meetings using the Twitter hashtag #bcclive
The next challenge for us is to step-up that social interaction with an already engaged and growing audience; something we believe has huge potential.
So the next time someone tells you that people are no longer interested in local government, you can take it from me that they’re wrong.
The public gallery may continue to be sparsely populated but that doesn’t mean the public aren’t attending council meetings. They’re just doing so from the comfort of their own homes and workplaces or even while sitting on the train or bus.
If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad…
To view Birmingham City Council meetings go to: http://www.birmingham.public-i.tv/core/portal/home
Birmingham City Council