Row breaks out over £20k 'webcast' idea

An outspoke opposition councillor is continuing with his campaign to put Metro meetings on the Internet.

Gareth Fairhurst, leader of the newly-formed Wigan Independent Conservatives, is pressing on with his campaign to have the full council broadcast on home computers despite his motion being voted down by the ruling Labour majority – supported by the official Conservatives – last month.

He believes that opening up the workings of the town hall's rulers to the public gaze will improve the behaviour of councillors and could also eventually boost the perennially low local authority elections turnout.

Coun Fairhurst also believes it would be worth the financial outlay in new technology because it will help the borough's 210,000 electorate feel more closely involved with the democratic process and eventually boost the council's efficient delivery of services itself.

He has proposed that the full council meeting is relayed live on to the Metro's own website, where it can be accessed by voters.

Coun Fairhurst - whose political party is made up of himself, his wife, his sister and his father, who are all Wigan councillors - said that webcasting would allow members of public to view the proceedings of Wigan Council and see what happens at the meetings "for themselves".

A feasibility study has now been completed which has concluded that it would cost in the region of 20,000 for the relevant equipment to be installed.

The Wigan Central Ward member said: "Some might say that we shouldn't be contemplating paying out this kind of money ... but when you see that the bill for councillors' meals for those attending meetings is now approximately 50,000 a year it rather puts it all in balance.

"This is the kind of thing I'm sure that the electorate would like to see us cutting out and we could then use this money to pay for the webcasting facility.

"This is the kind of project that would benefit the people of Wigan in a far greater way than paying for their councillors to have free food and drink."

Coun Fairhurst said: "When I put this to the Council both the Labour and Conservatives voted against this motion, therefore not allowing it to go through. I must now ask just what they think they have they got to hide?"

However, Coun Chris Ready, ruling Labour Cabinet member for communication, insisted that the council hadn't ruled out the concept of webcasting meetings "forever".

He explained: "In the current economic climate, the majority felt it wasn't the right time to be doing it.

"We have to balance the cost with the likely number of people who would use such a facility.

"It's something that will be looked at again in the future."

Coun Mike Winstanley, leader of the official Conservatives, said: "He should be coming up with ways to save council tax, not things which could increase it.

"Coun Fairhurst seems obsessed with gadgets.

"There are only ever a handful of people in the public gallery for council meetings, they are hardly packing the place out, queueing down the stairs and into Hewlett Street, are they?"