Council webcasts under review after problems led to meeting being abandoned

Efforts are under way to make sure that Brighton and Hove City Council webcasts work properly after the public feed failed during a meeting of the full council last month.

The council is required by law to meet in public and, since the coronavirus restrictions were brought in last year, has relied on Microsoft Teams software for members, officials and guests and webcasts for the press and public.

Conservative councillor Samer Bagaeen asked about the reliability of the webcasts at a virtual meeting of the council’s Audit and Standards Committee this afternoon (Tuesday 12 January).

Five and a half hours into the full council meeting on Thursday 17 December, the webcast failed and shortly afterwards the meeting had to be abandoned.

An extra meeting is due to be held next week to deal with the outstanding business.

In September the recording of the full council meeting failed to save or upload and has not been available for repeat viewing.

Councillor Bagaeen said: “The webcast is crucial in delivering our function in a modern and efficient way.

“Also given that we’re going to be doing this, I suspect, until the autumn, then do we have the systems in place to make sure what happened the last couple of times does not happen again?”

He asked whether it might be better to change the system to, say, Microsoft Teams Plus, because using different platforms seemed likely to be resulting in more problems.

Council IT (information technology) chief Dan Snowden said that the webcast system was under review to see if it was possible to run it through Microsoft Teams, Teams Plus or a similar service called Live Events.

The council’s legal chief Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis said that the webcast provider met with chief executive Geoff Raw and IT colleagues to try to ensure that future meetings were not beset by the same problems.

Mr Ghebre-Ghiorghis said: “They have given us assurances that look credible. We are seeing how things are working in practice.

“The bottom line is, with a virtual meeting, if the webcast is not working, you just can’t have the meeting. It is as fundamental as that.

“It is absolutely critical that we have a system that works and is reliable. In addition to the legal issue, there is also the question of reputation and the credibility of the council.”

Mr Ghebre-Ghiorghis said that the webcast provider was monitoring the next few meetings and if problems continued, the council would have to look at alternatives and consider ending its contract.

The council switched to its current webcasting software, Sonic Foundry, in May 2019, having previously worked with Public-i, a livestreaming specialist based in Western Road, Hove.

Councillors switched to remote meeting late last March, initially using Skype before switching to Microsoft Teams.

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