AN AVERAGE of 241 people tune in to watch council meetings screened live on the internet.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council invested £120,000 last year in a new conferencing and voting system which allows meetings of the full council to be broadcast online.
It costs a further £16,000 a year to maintain the ‘webcasting’ service.
Figures show the live broadcasts have attracted an average of 241 viewers, peaking at 476 for the council’s historic budget-setting meeting in February at which a package of £36 million cuts was approved.
Viewing figures have since dropped to 102 for a full council meeting in March, 242 for the council’s annual meeting in May and 107 for the most recent full council meeting on July 7.
Critics say the council has made the system too difficult to use and does not publicise it enough.
The number of people watching replays of meetings ‘on demand’ at a later date peaked at 854 for the budget-setting meeting but fell to just 86 for the meeting in July.
It is not known how many of the archive viewers also watched the live stream, or how much of the replays they view.
Councillor Paul Shotton, cabinet member for transformation and resources, said: “The webcast service allows members of the public who for whatever reason are unable to attend city council meetings to watch at a convenient time.
“It brings democracy out into the community reaching audiences beyond the city council chamber.
“We’re very happy with the number of views each meeting has had so far and we’re eager to explore realistic ways to expand the system.”
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council axed its webcasting system in December to save £13,226.
It had generated 1,498 live views in the year before it was axed.
Matt Burke, who runs a community website for Tunstall residents, said the technology used to stream the meetings requires visitors to install new software – putting many of them off.
He added: “I feel the budget meeting when the decision was made on Tunstall pool attracted a lot of viewers because it was promoted through Twitter and local websites, not because of the council.
“It isn’t publicised very well and it takes an age to find out where it is.
“They have invested in technology that works, but it does not work for everybody and isn’t future-proof.”
Former Liberal Democrat councillor Kieran Clarke was on the cabinet when the purchase of the new system was approved.
He said: “The sound system we had in the council chamber at the time kept breaking down.
“It was past its sell-by date and it was felt that if we were replacing it, we might as well include the webcasting system at the same time.
“There was never any discussion of how many people it would be aimed at, just that we felt it was something we had to provide.
“The meetings can seem strange, confusing or boring to people who don’t regularly see them.”
Conservative leader Abi Brown said: “Cabinet and other meetings should also be shown live because I think there would be an interest.
“The more meetings that are shown and the more people that watch, the better value for money we’ll get from the system.”
The digital system purchased by the council includes microphones for all 44 councillors to speak into at meetings, as well as touch-screens to register votes and a projector screen to show members in the chamber what is being streamed online.
The council’s development management and licensing sub-committees, which decide planning and licensing applications, also meet in the council chamber but are not currently screened live.
Development management meetings will be made available to view live “in due course.”
Scrutiny committees and cabinet meetings are held in different rooms which do not have cameras.