Councillors love webcast but hate listening to you

Jeremy Balfour plays solitaire. Picture: contributed
Jeremy Balfour plays solitaire. Picture: contributed
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COUNCILLORS have voted the live screening of their debates a big success but given the thumbs down to a vital tool which gives ordinary people a say.

Webcasting of often dreary council meetings only began a year ago amid jokey warnings it would fail to give reality programmes, such as The Only Way is Essex, a run for its money.

But that has done little to stop councillors revealing in a survey that they are delighted with the arrival of the all-seeing cameras.

However – in an incredible volte-face – the camera-hogging politicos have also revealed they are less than keen on the vital petitions committee, set up around the same time, which gives the public a chance to spell out their concerns to councillors.

The petitions committee convener, Green councillor Maggie Chapman, said she was disappointed at the views of her colleagues and launched an attack on deep-seated attitudes at the City Chambers.

She said: “It is ironic that many councillors seem content to let the public watch us on the webcast, yet are reluctant to give these people the time to be heard themselves.”

In the survey, almost 90 per cent of councillors said the screening of council meetings by webcam had improved openness, transparency and accountability. Only 33 per cent thought the petitions committee was a success while 45 per cent thought it was not.

Cllr Chapman said she thought some councillors viewed the committee’s meetings as “a waste of time”.

Pete Gregson, who successfully pursued a petition on whistleblowing, said he was surprised at councillors’ lack of enthusiasm.

“Most politicians want people to be more involved in politics,” he said. “I think it has been very successful. It’s an excellent way of making politics relevant to people’s lives. It brings people into the City Chambers and gets them participating.”

Since the committee was set up last October, nine petitions have been considered on topics, including religious observance in schools and cycling on 
pavements.

A report by council officials has recommended streamlining the petitions process, while extending webcasting to more committee meetings.

Council leader Andrew Burns said the petitions process “has provided another route for members of the public to raise issues”.

We revealed last month how former Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour was caught on camera playing solitaire on his iPad during a petitions committee meeting.

HOW TO MAKE AN ISSUE IN CITY POLITICS

PETITIONS from individuals can be considered if supported by at least 500 people who live in the city and are on the electoral register. The committee convener has discretion to declare a petition valid if it has more than 250 signatures. A petition by a business requires the support of 20 businesses on the valuation roll.

Alison Adamson-Ross, who started a petition to ban cycling on pavements, said too few people were aware of the opportunity to raise issues through a petition. She said: “I got a chance to air my concern and put forward ideas. The council needs to tell more people about this avenue.”