Just how open should local government be?

Back on 1st December 2009 I had submitted a notice of motion to Belfast City Council asking the Council to investigate the possibility of streaming Council meetings online, and archiving older meetings. The text of the motion was:

“This Council recognises that there is a need to encourage wider interest among the public, and particularly young people, in the affairs of the Council.

One means of creating enhanced awareness and participation would be to follow the lead set by the Northern Ireland Assembly and authorise the live streaming and archiving of Council proceedings on the Internet.

To this end, the Council directs that the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee give consideration to this matter in terms of constraints, benefits and costs with a view to bringing a recommendation to the Council at an early date.”

This Friday at the Policy & Resources committee the motion will be discussed and a decision taken as to whether we proceed with the motion or abandon it. Unsurprisingly, as I was the one who submitted the motion, I am in favour of increasing the level of accountability in the Council. Belfast City Council administers an annual budget of just under £150m. This is not out money- we merely administer it on behalf of Belfast ratepayers. It is our duty to ensure that the best use possible is made of this money and that all decisions are made in an open, accountable and transparent manner.

Council minutes, as far back as 1997, are available online for anyone to view and members of the public are allowed to attend meetings of the full Council to watch proceedings. It came as a bit of a shock to me last week when I heard that Council minutes were not available online and could only be viewed at Castlereagh Council.

I firmly believe that we should make every effort, and using all forms of technology available, to ensure that out actions are totally transparent and that we do what we can to make accountability easily accessible.

For an idea of the system I favour for Belfast City Council check out Dublin City Council.

Cost is not a legitimate excuse to prevent accountability.


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