Cardiff council sticks with virtual meetings due to ‘better behaviour and less heckling’

CARDIFF council is sticking with holding public meetings virtually, partly due to “better behaviour and less heckling” from councillors.

Since May 2020, public council meetings in Cardiff have been held over Microsoft Teams rather than in person at County Hall or City Hall.

This May however, the council will switch to a “multi-location policy” where some members can meet in person with others joining virtually.

Several reasons were given for sticking with virtual meetings, rather than going completely back to meeting in person, including less heckling, less travel time, and more accessibility.

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Details of the changes were revealed in recent reports to the council’s constitution committee, which met on Monday, February 28, including concerns over the potential impact to the democratic process.

The reports said:

“Although experiences have been mixed, on the whole meeting management and the behaviours of participants have both improved, with less heckling taking place at meetings.”

Before the pandemic, public meetings at Cardiff council sometimes led to rancorous debate with frequent allegations of bullying. In 2017, some councillors described meetings as “shambolic and directionless”, with claims of “baying, laughing and talking over to intimidate and undermine”.

During virtual meetings, due to the way the technology is set up, any laughing or heckling can’t be heard, as microphones are switched off unless members have been specifically called to speak.

Since the pandemic began, “significantly more” members of the public have been watching live-streamed virtual council meetings, compared to how many watched them in City Hall.

Views were split, in a consultation on the changes, on the pros and cons of holding meetings virtually. As well as less heckling and better behaviour, other benefits were seen to include less time travelling, as the journey could be long for some councillors travelling from places like St Mellons or Radyr to County Hall or City Hall.

One consultee said: “It would be really sad if meetings went back to being [in person] as it seems such a chunk of people’s time if they’re not already in County Hall.”

But some considered virtual meetings to be worse for political debate than in person.

Another councillor said:

“I don’t like Zoom meetings, I like real meetings with real people. The sooner we return to our wonderful City Hall chamber, designed for such meetings, the better. Politics is about people and meeting people and talking to them.  I did not become a councillor to become a face on a TV channel.”

Alex Seabrook Local Democracy Reporter

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