It has been coming. Sometimes you can sense the way the wind is blowing and these meetings being broadcast live over the internet seemed to be the way things were going and in yesterday’s local rag it was confirmed that the Tory-led council were going ahead with plans to upgrade audio equipment and install video equipment to the cost to the taxpayer of £82,000.
Councillors seem to be in general against the plan – not because they don’t like being filmed or are fearful that people might actually hear what they say – but more because at a time where cuts are being made – and will continue to be made for several years – spending money on this seems like it is money that could be better spent elsewhere. This is the view of Cllr. Ware-Lane and Lib Dem Leader Cllr. Longley (who was quoted in the Echo) as well as Toey Cllr. Salter (again quoted in the Echo story).
Now a couple of local activists are delighted with the plans including Del Thomas and the Echo’s latest columnist Ms. Jack Monroe. So the big question (well not the big question but considering this is my blog the most relevant question is where I’m going to nail my colours to the mast…).
Well I am pretty much in the same boat as Cllr. Ware-Lane, Cllr. Longley and Cllr. Salter. I think broadcasting these meetings is a good idea but at this current juncture is it really going to engage with the local electorate? How many people are going to tune in on a Thursday evening to watch a full council to see what their councillors say? A local Lib Dem activist I know says that council meetings are ‘the best theatre in town’ which either says how bad the local amateur dramatics groups are or grossly over-exaggerates what actually goes on in the council chamber.
There is a real issue with engagement between councillors and the people of Southend. The quite frankly abject numbers who voted in May is testament to this. This might help but how much will it really help? That is a legitimate question and when you couple it with ‘How else could that £82,000 be spent?’ then you have two very pertinent questions that should be answered.
Look I’d probably tune in and just have it on in the background to see if anyone said actually stupid/dumb/interesting/ that I could blog about but it wouldn’t be ‘must see TV’ as it were. Anything really interesting would be covered by someone from the local rag or other bloggers who are far more dedicated than I to spend their Thursday evenings down at the Civic.
£82,000 isn’t a huge swathe of money when you look at the total budget but could it be spent better elsewhere to enhance the lives of more people? I think it probably could and could you spend £82,000 and find a better way to engage with the public? Yes. Yes I think you could. On paper it seems like a good and noble idea but when push comes to shove and in this economic climate the council is having to live under it doesn’t seem like a good investment and the council will not be getting their bang for their buck as it were.
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