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Sound but no video as Suffolk council agrees to provide audio of meetings

Ipswich council has agreed to provide audio recordings of full council and executive meetings after lobbying by an opposition councillor - but ruled out video streams for now because of the costs.

Council meetings and committees nationwide switched to online gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic under emergency Government legislation, which has helped improve transparency and engagement with decision making.

But meetings must now be held again in person after the Government refused to extend legislation. While most of Suffolk's councils have offered live video streams or recordings available to watch back of key meetings being held in person, Ipswich Borough Council has not had video provision.

Councillors have said yes to audio but no to video on cost grounds
Councillors have said yes to audio but no to video on cost grounds

It has agreed to provide audio recordings of full council and executive meetings but ruled out video recordings or streams.

According to figures presented to full council back in January, the cost of new equipment like cameras and microphones would be in the region of £35,000-£45,000.

Sam Murray, who was elected as a councillor in May for the Conservatives, has been lobbying the council on the issue for months prior to her election, and said it was important for transparency and democratic engagement.

Samantha Murray
Samantha Murray

"I have been personally going to the meetings [pre-pandemic] with a camera and trying to make a point that it doesn't take a lot to do this, " she said.

"It's not professional recording but at least people can watch this stuff.

"It's about transparency and having an open door policy to the public.

Bryony Rudkin
Bryony Rudkin

"I have a disability and you think about the reasons why the public cannot attend a meeting - people have busy lives, they might have children and don't want to bring in kids to a meeting, they might have a disability or a phobia.

"There is no reason why with the tech we have we cannot go to people as well."

She added: "I think it's imperative for our democracy for the public being able to hear what's been decided."

Cllr Murray said the agreement by the administration for audio recordings was a win for the public, but vowed to continue the pressure for getting video streamed meetings.

Since meetings returned in person, Suffolk County Council, Babergh District Council, Mid Suffolk District Council and East Suffolk Council have all offered video streams of their main meetings and committees - with some available to watch back afterwards.

West Suffolk Council offered a web broadcast of its annual meeting in Newmarket, and has been piloting recordings of meetings, including a trial video recording of this week's cabinet meeting.

Bryony Rudkin, deputy leader of Ipswich Borough Council's Labour administration, said: “In line with a previous commitment, meetings of executive and council are now audio-recorded and the recording will be made available shortly after each meeting via the council’s website.

"There are no plans to film meetings as this would have significant cost implications which cannot currently be justified given the ongoing impact of Covid on the council’s finances.

"Members of the press and public are welcome to attend council meetings and can record and film any such meeting, if they so wish, with the exception of a limited number of commercially or personally sensitive items.”

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