A GWENT council has amassed a near 10-year back catalogue of its meetings, which can be viewed on demand by anyone, anywhere in the world.
The collection of video recordings of Monmouthshire County Council meetings includes titles such as ‘Special Meeting All Four Select Committees’ and ‘Special Meeting of Adults and Strong Communities Select Committees’.
Some of the videos are epic feature-length proportions, including full council meetings lasting more than six hours, while others are just a short, sharp burst of local democracy in action, with cabinet meetings of just an hour or less, or 15 minutes of the licensing and regulatory committee in discussion.
All of the meeting are available on the council’s YouTube channel, where it also live streams the meetings as they happen and the council now intends making use of the recordings by replacing traditional written minutes with links to the online videos instead.
Since July, rather than writing a short summary of discussions at full council meetings to produce the minutes – the official record of the meeting as required by law – the council has instead published a brief summary of the item for discussion and the outcome of any decision and recorded votes, where councillors have requested one, along with a link to the start of the item in the full length video.
The council’s democratic services committee has now agreed the format should also be used by all the council’s committees, although local democracy manager John Pearson said there would be flexibility as the licensing and planning committees may still need to produce more detailed written decisions.
Conservative councillor for Gobion Fawr Alistair Neill backed the move which he said would be a time saver for council officers, but added minutes are also a “true record” of the council’s proceedings and asked how long recordings would be kept for.
Mr Pearson said all of the council’s recorded meetings, since it began streaming them, are available on its YouTube channel, but said the council would also have to consider its own storage should the service change or no longer exist and would keep them for a minimum of six years in line with how it handles the written minutes.
Mr Pearson said the council had run out of storage space for the written minutes, which are passed on to the Gwent Archives, and they were no longer being used by staff to look back on decisions.
He also explained the council has three recordings of every meeting; from YouTube, recording equipment in the council chamber, and from Microsoft Teams, the online video conferencing system which allows the authority to hold ‘hybrid meetings’ with some members or officers in the chamber and others joining in remotely.
Caldicot West End Labour councillor Jill Bond asked how people with hearing impairments would be able to access the recordings and Mr Pearson said subtitles are available via YouTube. Transcripts can also be produced via Microsoft Teams, though Mr Pearson said they would likely need “some tidying up” by officers but are time stamped so staff wouldn’t be required to listen back to a full meeting for one item.
He said other councils may have “nicer looking software” than a YouTube channel but they potentially pay “hundreds of thousands of pounds a year for it” and as a result may only stream meetings of some key committees which councils have been required to do by law since May 2022.
Croesonen Labour member Su McConnel said: “As a minute taker many years ago this looks to me like a really good idea as bias can come in here, or selective bias, if you’re not transcribing everything.”
The committee agreed the format will be reviewed after 12 months to ensure it is effective and accessible for councillors and the public and it was also noted any issues can be raised by committee chairs.