To receive a progress update on the City Council’s ambition to implement webcasting of Council meetings.
132.1 The Cabinet Member for Performance and Resources, Councillor Hannah Norman, advised Members that since the Committee received an initial briefing back in February, there had been an update on the proposed webcasting solution which was outlined in the agenda papers. Councillor Norman explained that Officers had consulted a third party which specialised in webcasting to explore more traditional webcasting technology. She advised that costs were expected to be in the region of £60-£80k and confirmed that she would be happy to share the project plan with the Overview and Scrutiny Committee once the relevant quotes had been received.
132.2 The Chair queried whether the expected spend was comparable to packages received in other local authorities. The Program Manager advised that colleagues in Stroud District Council had confirmed similar costs. He noted that the set-up cost was estimated at around £30k for the initial software, with the remaining costs for hardware refresh and implementation of audio-visual equipment and technology.
132.3 In response to an additional query from the Chair as to whether meeting webcasting was likely to generate revenue for the City Council in the future, Councillor Norman stated that she did not expect webcasting to be an income generating resource, noting that there might well be additional costs to factor in relating to software licensing.
132.4 Councillor Hilton indicated that he welcomed the change of position, noting his view that the Civica ModGov Meet solution initially explored would have disrupted the interaction between Members and Officers during Council meetings. He felt it was the right decision to explore a more traditional webcasting solution and stated his hope that the Section 151 Officer would be able to source funding for the project. Councillor Norman explained that the situation had changed following confirmation from Civica that they would not be in a position to deliver the ModGov Meet offering for 6-8 months, and it was felt that this was too long to wait. She provided assurances that she had discussed the matter with the Section 151 Officer and that a breakdown of detailed costs, including ongoing software costs was key. Councillor Norman further advised Members that consideration needed to be given as to whether specialist Guildhall or additional Democratic Services staff might need to be present to support webcasting delivery during meetings. She noted that ongoing revenue costs were a concern for the City Council.
132.5 Councillor Hilton stated his expectation that the additional administrative burden was likely to be prior to meetings rather than during. He expressed the view that the webcasting project needed to go ahead, noting that Gloucester City Council was one of just two councils in Gloucestershire which did not have meeting webcasting facilities in place. Councillor Norman reminded Members that there had been delays with implementing the project due to the cyber incident. The Program Manager further explained that neighbouring district councils had adopted different proprietary systems, however there tended to be ongoing software costs.
132.6 The Chair commented that meeting webcasting could compliment the recommendation of the Peer Review report to undertake a review of the council’s delivery arrangements for external communications. Councillor Norman noted that she did not expect webcasting to be a large communication channel for the City Council, reflecting on the audience during the Covid-19 pandemic while meetings were held virtually. She agreed that it was important to have an open channel of communication with residents but stated that expectations needed to be managed around viewing take-up. It was noted that some residents might be more likely to watch meetings retrospectively rather than live.
132.7 Councillor Wilson reflected on his experience of visiting the Stroud District Council Chamber and noted that the cameras were automated and not visible, with no need for a director. In relation to the expected costs, he queried whether the £60-£80k figure related to set up costs alone or also annual revenue costs. The Program Manager estimated that set up costs would be around £30k and that he would be looking for quotes from multiple suppliers for the best value option.
132.8 In response to an additional query from Councillor Wilson regarding timeframes, Councillor Norman clarified that the 6-8 month timeframe related to the Civica ModGov Meet package which was no longer being considered as a solution. She confirmed that if progress was made with implementing the audio-visual equipment, webcasting should be in place sooner than this timeframe.
132.9 Councillor Dee noted her assumption that there were no current plans to move the City Council Chamber from the North Warehouse Civic Suite, but queried whether the new equipment would be transferable. Councillor Norman confirmed that there were no plans to relocate the Council Chamber at the moment, however transferable software would be key to longevity.
RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee NOTE the update.