National and Devolved Politics

30.08.17

Sheffield launches pilot to make council meetings shorter and more accessible

Sheffield City Council has announced a move to make its authority meeting more accessible to the wider public so that residents can watch and participate in important debates and decisions.

As part of a pilot scheme set to be launched in September, Sheffield will make changes to its monthly full council meeting, held on the first Wednesday of every month, where major issues affecting the city are debated and the budget is set.

The meeting times will be changed and made shorter. On 6 September, the first meeting included in the trial, the full council will meet at 5pm and finish at 8pm. The first hour will still be made available for petitions and questions from public members, as is the case now.

Currently, full council meetings start at 2pm and regularly last more than 4.5 hours, making them significantly less accessible for people who work during the day or cannot afford to stay there for such a long period of time.

Cllr Olivia Blake, deputy leader of the city council and chair of the cross-party group responsible for the pilot, said: “We want people to have the opportunity to access the democratic process, so we’re making changes so more people can get involved.

“We established a cross-party working group to look at how we can do things differently Not everyone is able to attend meetings in the working day or stay for the whole debate and we want to find a way to make the meetings more accessible and engaging to the public.”

Cllr Blake added that the local authority is keen to receive feedback from the public on the pilot’s changes, which will stay in place until April 2018.

Alongside feedback, the cross-party group will also be reviewing how full council meetings are working to make sure they are effective.

Other aspects of decision-making and public engagement will also be considered, such as by creating a ‘route map’ to help people understand the different ways to ask questions and raise issues at meetings and reviewing the process for petitions and looking at different ways the public might ask questions.

Communication and engagement methods will be improved, such as via better-shaped consultations, and the city council will consider options for webcasting and audio recording to make its meetings more widely accessible.

Those who wish to ask questions at full council meetings can email them in advance to committee@sheffield.gov.uk, or attend in person by coming to the Town Hall and providing details of their inquiry at least 15 minutes before the meeting starts.

Sheffield’s decision to boost transparency and public engagement comes just a few months after Dr Martin Moore from the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power argued that councils should be worried about the dwindling numbers of residents reporting from council meetings or spending commitment decisions.

As well as investing more significantly in local journalism to avoid the creation of ‘news black spots’ in towns and cities, Dr Moore recommended that councils start live streaming their meetings to ensure residents can stay up to date with decisions without necessarily having to attend.

(Top image c. SAKhanPhotography)

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