Melton Borough Council: online and hybrid meetings

There had been intermittent problems with the audio system in the council chamber for some years before the pandemic lockdown which had caused difficulties in public meetings and generated complaints from members of the public. This feedback was taken extremely seriously and resulted in a commitment from councillors and officers to review the current provision because it was no longer deemed fit for purpose.

Why was the solution needed?

During lockdown the council was quick to react and implement the use of software which facilitated our need to convene meetings remotely and also provided the platform to live stream the meetings through YouTube for greater public participation. The council’s current system was simply not compatible with livestreaming meetings and having seen the benefits of broadcasting council meetings in terms of access to the democratic process and decision making, it was agreed that the ability to livestream meetings had now become a necessity regardless of the meeting format/setting. 

We were tasked with exploring options for when the restrictions were lifted and a procurement process was promptly initiated for a new AV System in the Autumn of 2020.

The council required a new microphone conferencing system to be installed in its multi-purpose room. The room is also utilised for weddings and other formal events so the system needed to be user friendly as well as reliable, cost effective and flexible for various types of meeting. The council’s requirements were that the new equipment needed to provide electronic voting, microphones, speakers, ID attendance, TV screens, the ability to live stream and cater for those who are hard of hearing.

What was the solution?

Confidence was an important factor when selecting the right solution provider.

A specification was drafted which set out our requirements for a delegate system incorporating audio and visual live streaming capabilities with the option of being able to run hybrid meetings. 

The council ran an open, advertised procurement process and received a great response. 

Auditel’s flexible approach coupled with their demonstrable understanding of our needs made them the perfect choice to provide a high-spec audio-visual system for Melton Borough Council.

Key challenges or points of learning

We had planned our procurement exercise around the possibility that remote meetings would not continue after 6 May 2021, when that position was confirmed, the timing of the installation became critical. We needed to schedule our annual council meeting before the end of May 2021, but the Elections team had exclusive occupation of the council chamber until after the election and count and this presented a logistical problem because it gave the supplier, Auditel only two weeks to install and test the system, deliver the training programme and provide a briefing to members. 

At the same time, we were developing and incorporating plans and risk assessments for running our first in-person COVID-safe meeting. Thankfully we had enough space to run the meeting from our council chamber, I know many others weren’t so lucky.

The AV system was signed off the day before the council meeting. There was a huge amount of collaboration required between the different stakeholders and the Democratic Services team were fantastic in very quickly absorbing the training and putting it into practice live at the first in person AGM! It is clear that Democratic Services and Governance colleagues up and down the country have become used to responding to challenges in order to keep local authority decision making going so as not to damage public confidence in the democratic process.

Another challenge was incorporating learning a whole new “AV Tech” language and keeping the project on schedule whilst covering the day job! We had a project group which included the corporate assets team and IT, but the project was led by Democratic Services. The team stepped up to the mark and were committed to seeing this through for the council in the tight timescales available. 

Early benefits/impact/conclusion

The annual meeting took place on 26 May 2021 with COVID-secure arrangements for a safe environment for all attendees. The council also provided a small public gallery in the chamber as well as additional seating in a separate area outside of the meeting room showcasing its new system with a new wide screen portable television screen. The meeting was also live-streamed through YouTube so that members of the public who had got used to viewing meetings in the comfort of their own homes were still able to remotely view the meeting in real time.

I am pleased to say we have successfully convened and live streamed 11 meetings from the council chamber to date. The team are still getting used to the new equipment and will be exploring its advanced functionality in the coming months.

The viewing figures for the remote meetings and the meetings held so far in the chamber which have been live streamed, far exceed the in-person attendance figures that we used to have pre-COVID. 

Our Members are supportive of the new system and are eager to continue to explore its functionality in the coming months.

As Democratic Services Manager, I can say it is a pleasure to work for a forward-thinking council in a supportive environment with officers who continually demonstrate a ‘can do’ attitude.