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Town Council Watch: The Great Blackout Special

Local Democracy Sketch

Jimmy Young Published: 01 February 2024

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Town Council Watch lettering and a torch in the dark

As TCW slowly emerged from the cardboard box of straw he’s kept in over the winter hibernation period, it was once again time to eagerly log on to YouTube and catch up with the latest goings on at Wymondham Town Council - starting with December’s meeting. But horror of horrors! The stream was nowhere to be found online.

What had happened? Had the December agenda on their website just been a dream? And just how would this column’s avid readers have their thirst for hyper-local democracy reporting quenched? Well, press ctrl alt delete, try turning it off and on again and maybe even check for trojan horses. It’s time to shine some light on The Great Blackout™.

Come on. It’s not as if a lack of material to cover has ever got in the way of a nice, juicy article before.

Gathering Intel’

The first port of call for TCW was to pump one of his inside moles at the council for any information, who for the sake of anonymity, we’ll call “Deep Throat”.

“The meeting did go ahead,” reported Deep Throat via encrypted message. “But the stream broke. Trevor [The Clerk] tried to fix it for a bit but didn't manage to get it to work”.

Good old Deep Throat. Always a valuable source of information. Lay low for a bit now soldier, lest the spy catchers come a-knocking.

A Potted History Of Town Council Streaming

This is actually the first time the council has suffered a full outage of their YouTube streaming, since the previous council unanimously voted to purchase the necessary equipment back in June 2022, at a cost of £3000 + VAT.

That proposal was co-authored by now-Mayor Suzanne Nuri-Nixon (Lib Dem) and Deputy Mayor Annette James (Lib Dem) whose paper included the line:

“As councillors wishing to be as open and transparent as possible about how we conduct Council matters, I hope we can agree to have the technology costed and installed for our residents to watch our meetings on YouTube.”

Noble stuff. With commitment to openness and transparency like that, just imagine how delighted they must be about TCW's monthly column.

But as well as unleashing the fantastic reporting of the council’s monthly sessions on these pages, streaming on YouTube was also intended to improve accessibility of council meetings, for people not physically able to attend.

Cllr Joe Barrett (Green), prior to being elected, launched a petition to get Town Council sessions streamed. Here’s an excerpt from his change.org page:

“It is essential to democracy that public participation is enabled, particularly for those of us who struggle to, or cannot, attend due to disability.”

So it was perhaps a cruel irony that the streaming service, aimed at improving accessibility, failed in the month the council was to debate a proposal on the very subject of disability.

The paper, submitted by Cllr Dave Roberts (Lib Dem), was aimed at “making our town a disabled-friendly place for residents” and asked the Town Council to “work to raise awareness of disability issues and access needs in the town.”

Hear hear. Welcome words for anyone with access needs in Wymondham. Anyone watching the session at home on YouTube will have been delighted. Oh.

TCW understands from the minutes that the measure passed unanimously.

Surely Just A One Off?

So a sad month in December for this column with the stream breaking. But sometimes technology simply goes wrong and you’ve just got to hold your hands up and say “Sorry. We messed up, we’ll get it sorted ASAP”.

But that’s enough about how TCW lost his job working on the Post Office's Horizon helpline.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer after all. Alarm bells might only start to ring if a whole month was allowed to go past without the issue being fixed.

The matter is surely in hand.

January Meeting Stream Also Fails

Fast forward to January’s full council meeting and TCW gathered around the television in anticipation wearing the giant foam finger he always gets out for exciting spectacles.

But alas! The YouTube stream started but the screen was just black and there was no sound. It lasted just 3 minutes before abruptly ending, never to return.

Now, cold-hearted readers might be thinking: “TCW, how did you tell the difference between the outcomes of that meeting and any of the other ones?”

Shame on you, cynics. It was pretty easy though - as you ask. This one only took 3 minutes to arrive at the same conclusion.

What absolute rotten luck though for the full-council stream to break for the second time in a row for January's meeting. Especially as it was when the Town Council were discussing whether or not to raise their share of council tax.

We’ll now have no minute-by-minute record of who said what.

The councillors wishing to be as open and transparent as possible are going to hit the roof when they realise!

Now, TCW’s famously forgiving in these types of scenarios. But it’s unlikely the Town Council’s Chair, Suzanne Nuri-Nixon, will be taking such a chilled out view of the YouTube streaming outages.

Back in August 2018, the South Wymondham councillor had the foresight to take to Wymondham Magazine to argue the need for councils to be open and transparent.

In an opinion piece entitled ‘Why effective communication is vital for the Council’, written while an opposition councillor, she offered up stern words of warning to those in power:

“I often think that people need to know the facts, even though they may not like them. Attempts to hide facts - whether on purpose or in error - can lead to mistrust and the perception that all politicians are the same and will not give you the truth.”

Oof. Sounds like it could be quite the damning verdict on the stream failures then from the now-Mayor. Innocent mistakes made 'in error' don't escape mistrust, according to the article. Not my words. Read the quote again. I'll wait for you here.

Will The Cock Crow Thrice?

So there we are. A slightly different Town Council Watch this month with no full-council YouTube streams to work from for the past two months. Some of the smaller committees seem to have worked in the meantime, so there’s hope yet that we can soon return to the normal high levels of service you expect.

The next full council meeting will surely be streamed for all to devour and enjoy.

Lightning nevers strikes three times, does it?

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