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New Powys Council leader claims insufficient funds in budget set to restore online public access

NOT enough money was provided in this year’s budget to allow all Powys County Council’s committee meetings to be streamed live online, says council leader, James Gibson-Watt.

Following local elections in May councillors have returned to the council chamber at county hall in Llandrindod Wells for some meetings.

They take place in a hybrid format, which sees some councillors in the chamber and other take par online.

The public are able to full council and cabinet proceedings at the chamber in person or live online

But concerns have been expressed that the council’s scrutiny meetings on education, social service, environment, and economy are now only held online without public access.

People with an interest in watching these meetings have to wait until they have finished and are uploaded to the council’s website.

A council spokesman has said that by showing full council and cabinet meetings live online they “meet the current requirement” under the Welsh Government Local Government and Elections Act (Wales) 2021 which encouraged more electronic broadcasting of meetings.

Cllr James Gibson-Watt said:

“We’re trying to sort this out as quickly as we can.

“The situation is that that there is only enough money in the budget to cover the Zoom licence fee to  broadcast cabinet and full council meetings live.

“As things stand there is not enough to go further than that.

“That decision was made as part of the budget process last year.

“We didn’t know that they weren’t been shown live until we started getting complaints.

“I want to restore the live broadcasting of all committee meetings as soon as possible.

“We are looking at finding the resources to extend this to all committee meetings.”

His comments follow criticism from former cabinet member and journalist Graham Breeze who is part of the Independent group.

Cllr Breeze has tabled a number of questions on the issue to Cllr James Gibson-Watt on the meeting changes which he believes is a “direct contradiction” of an “open and transparent Powys.”

Cllr Breeze said:

“Prior to covid restrictions being put in place the press and public had open access to committee meetings.

“During covid restrictions the press and public had Zoom or (Microsoft) Teams access to committee meetings.

“Now they are only offered a recording facility which is totally unacceptable.”

Electronic broadcasting of meetings legally came into force in Wales last year.

It cemented emergency legislation that was brought in during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 which allowed meetings to take place remotely.

The  new law all covers all Welsh local authorities, community councils, national park authorities, fire and rescue authorities and port health authorities..

In March, the Welsh Government opened a consultation which closes on Friday July 22 , which looks at shaping new guidance for councils on how this law will be managed.

The Welsh Government say that they would like to see live broadcasting extended to a “number of other council committee meetings, ” in the future.

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