By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter
Councillors were divided over plans to spend £437k to improve the quality of virtual meetings from the council chamber.
Nottinghamshire County Council documents state that the current equipment, which was approved before the pandemic struck, is “outdated and unsuitable”.
It proposes to spend a total of £437,341 on new equipment, including large, mounted wall displays to allow officers to attend meetings virtually while tracking cameras would be installed to focus on councillors when they speak.
But some councillors opposed the plans – with one saying he could not justify the cost when he is supporting young people in his ward to access food.
Chair of the Economic Development and Asset Management Committee Councillor Keith Girling (Con) said the plans were “about democracy” and will “hold councillors to account”.
Six councillors voted for the plans, two against and three abstained during the meeting on January 25.
Cllr Girling told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “At the full council meeting we had 70 people watching the live stream.
“The quality and standard of the live streaming is not sufficient at the minute to see and hear councillors debating.
“It is very difficult for councillors to contribute which is also important.
“People deserve to see how their councillors behave in a council meeting, that is an added bonus.
“We have saved over a million pounds on expenses claims during the pandemic for travel.”
He added: “It’s really important, especially when you are looking at social services and adult social care, that the quality of those conversations can be understood and heard.”
Councillor David Shaw (Ashfield Ind) said: “This is an awful lot of money, it is way beyond what I was expecting for a microphone, a TV stand and internet connection.
“I am having to support young people in my division to feed them.
“I cannot justify spending this on internet connection.”
Cllr Girling replied: “It is not a couple of microphones and internet connection. It is a lot of equipment.
“It is bringing us into this century. This is about openness, transparency and democracy.
“Anybody that doesn’t think we should be doing that, I worry about, to be frank.”
Councillor Kate Foale (Lab) said: “We’ve all experienced meetings in this chamber where the kit hasn’t really worked, it is very difficult.
“The big concern is that it is an awful lot of money.”
Councillor Roger Upton (Con) added: “I don’t personally think £437,000 or thereabouts is a massive amount of money given the context of this authority and its budget.
“I can’t see half the time, I can’t hear half the time. If it doesn’t change I won’t be coming back in four years time.”
Documents state the costs will be fully funded from a Covid funding grant.
Documents state £335,269.53 would be spent to improve equipment within the council chamber and the Rufford Suite, while a further £102,072.20 would be invested to provide technology in committee rooms B and C.
The plans will now be discussed by the council’s Finance Committee.