A SENIOR Swindon councillor is encouraging members to Tweet during meetings in a bid to boost public engagement in the authority’s decisions.
Coun Dale Heenan, cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, is encouraging the use of Twitter and other social media following calls for meetings to be filmed and broadcast live online, which he claims would be costly and less effective.
Officers worked up a feasibility study into webcasting meetings following a campaign by Coun Mark Dempsey, the deputy Labour group leader, who is also Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Swindon North.
The outcome, to be discussed at Wednesday’s cabinet, says the cost of webcasting with the market leading solution, used by 70 other councils, would be more than £1,000 per meeting.
The report also sets out other cheaper options, including councillors or a volunteer resident recording meetings on their own devices and uploading footage to a free public hosting service; the council buying portable digital cameras, operated by staff members, and uploading the video; or streaming the audio only on Swindon 105.5.
But Coun Heenan said: “People would rather watch EastEnders or Coronation Street than watch a council meeting. I don’t think it will improve community engagement in any way. It’s a late 1990s idea that it will contribute in any way.
“It’s a real shame that, given the priorities and issues facing the borough, this is no more than a distraction and I cannot justify why the council should spend £90,000 over a few years.
”Many councillors already Tweet during the course of the meeting to the people which follow them on Twitter. And we reach a far wider audience that you would if the meeting was recorded.
“I would like to see that encouraged, and maybe there are other ways of doing social media, which is a fraction of cost and is more effective.
“The borough council has over 2,000 followers on its Twitter account. I have 120 and other councillors have 4/5/600 people following them. People can actually ask questions so they are re-Tweeting what we’ve said during the course of the meeting.”
However, Coun Heenan said the council needed to find a way to encourage councillors to use social media properly so it did not become a distraction in debates.
Coun Mark Dempsey said: “I think if we can find a cost-effective way, we should be webcasting.
“Tweeting is a second-hand account of a meeting. Webcasting gives people a first-hand account of a meeting.”