Will Fleet Town Council Finally Go Public?

by For Fleet's Sake
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TRANSPARENCY IN LOCAL POLITICS

Local politics shape our everyday life, from ongoing developments in our district to things that are happening on our own doorstep, often without us even realising it. In the past there has been a distinct divide between those who were interested in such things and those that would rather watch paint dry but in more recent times there has been a steady increase in public interest, with more people wanting to know what really goes on behind the scenes.

Interest in this subject locally has been sparked by a number of things, including developments and plans which local residents were seemingly unaware of until it was too late, resulting in a determination to be far more involved in future. Last year Hart District Council finally agreed to live stream their meetings, as other councils had been doing for sometime, in response to a campaign by Councillor Steve Forster. At long last, this allowed the public to watch from the comfort and convenience of their own homes.

In more recent times, due to COVID-19, Hart District Council have taken to holding virtual meetings using “Microsoft Teams” to converse with each other, while still making the streams available to interested members of the public from their livestream page. Unfortunately and for reasons known only to themselves, these streams are often taken down within a matter of hours (and sometimes a lot less) with the council refusing to archive them for later viewing as other councils do.

Below: Hart District Council using Microsoft Teams to hold their meetings.

When it comes to Fleet Town Council, it has previously been made clear that they have no interest in discussing requests to live stream their meetings. Not only does this waste a valuable opportunity to increase public faith and indeed interest in the town, it prevents the public viewing the discussion of issues that could affect their everyday lives. It is also rather pertinent when considering that the typed minutes from FTC meetings have often been proven to be inaccurate and missing information.

In April, local authorities in England were handed new powers to hold public meetings virtually and in July an amendment was added that confirmed “parish meetings” came under the definition of “local authority”. This allowed local parish councils, to have some flexibility and indeed accountability going forwards, with an option that would “allow the public and press to access meetings and associated documents remotely”, enabling members of the public to view council meetings once again, as they no longer had the option to do so in person. But with issues as Gurkha Square on the agenda (once again), will the council actually make the move and listen to local residents?

Below: Government regulations allows parish council meetings to be live streamed.

Previously, there has been mentions of the costs of setting up such a scheme but since the covid pandemic changed the way councils operate, Fleet Town Council have also taken to using “Microsoft Teams” software to communicate online in virtual meetings (the same software that Hart District Council use and make available via a public live stream online). As this technology now exists, there is very little reason to see why any request to make this public could or should be denied.

Councillor Steve Forster agrees that the time is right to progress with this and, in his capacity as a local resident, will be asking the local parishes of Fleet and Elvetham if they will now consider sharing their online meetings with members of the public. The question that will be put by Cllr. Forster to Fleet Town Council in their next full meeting (date to be confirmed), will be:

“After my successful campaign to get Hart District Council to live stream council meetings (including committee meetings) and make them available on the web, there has been public appreciation for the access, openness, and transparency this has delivered – especially now that Covid means public cannot attend meetings.

Will Fleet Town Council now, as a matter of urgency, also implement live streaming (including availability of public watching & downloading of meetings after they finish) for all council official meetings where agenda is published, and all working groups.

Currently, since MS Teams is used for virtual meetings, there are unlikely to be any cost or technical obstacles that should delay implementation.”

It is hard to see how there would be any objection to this request, after all the public does have the right to view council meetings and it is likely that any refusal would leave residents asking just what the councils didn’t want you to see. This could also be an ideal way of encouraging future generations to get more involved in an area that is currently seen as inaccessible and rather daunting. Bit of a win-win situation really…let’s hope our local parish councils agree.

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