Sunday, 12 June 2011

Big Brother is watching: scrutinising our elected representatives

At the risk of looking like an incredible political geek, I wanted to share something that I have found particularly fascinating in the last few weeks: the webcasting of Brighton & Hove Council meetings. Who am I kidding? Regular readers already know I'm beyond keen in using technology to open up politics!

Since December of last year, key council meetings, such as cabinet, planning and scrutiny meetings have been streamed on a live basis and are then available as an archive. Agendas, the contributions of individual speakers and associated documentation are also searchable. At a stroke, this move flips the relationship between electing and elected - no longer are we placed in the position of passively asking for information from the powerful and informed. In this new world, voters have it at their disposal if they choose to find it.

This shift has the potential to revolutionise our ability to hold elected representatives to account. A consistent voter frustration with Council meetings has been that they generally need to be held during core working hours, limiting the ability of most voters to attend. This change crucially brings Council business further into the lives of those individuals with limited mobility.

Whilst the new system is not exhaustive in coverage of all meetings, I am impressed with the steps taken by the previous Conservative Council to truly open themselves up to the public eye. Knowing how strongly my Green Councillor colleagues feel about increasing transparency in public life, I am eager to see how they will build upon this strong foundation in their term in office. Publicising this service more broadly would be an excellent first step.

More than before, now that my local party holds the balance of power on the Council, I'm finding this invaluable in informing me about the major local decisions my colleagues are wrestling with. Additionally, it provides a unique insight and opportunity to scrutinise the priorities and performance of our elected representatives away from the glare of election campaigns.

A single month into our new Council, I'll keep my opinions to myself regarding individual performances, but these webcasts are fundamentally shaping my views about the politicians in the city, both external to and within my own party. I would encourage you to check if your Council is doing something similar. If not, I can't recommend this highly enough, especially for those interested in standing for public office, shaping local political policy or keen to hold politicians accountable. Believe me, it's an eye opener!

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