The Head of Law and Regulation stated that the report was for information. Between now and next May 2022 hybrid meetings were being developed. This was a mixture of face-to-face meetings and allowing Councillors to dial in remotely. This was to be discussed later in the Committee.
Welsh Government were keen to provide guidance to Councillors and Local Authorities on how these hybrid meetings should be conducted also referred to as Multi-Location Meetings.
The report was a draft so if Members had any comments, they could be fed back to the WLGA and Welsh Government.
The Committee were informed that Newport City Council had secured £52,000 grant funding from the Digital Democracy Fund to improve the infrastructure in the Council Chambers and Committee rooms and to enhance the software.
The project group would present a presentation to the Committee in time, as to how this new system would work building on the Microsoft Teams technology being used already which fed into the kit already there in the Council Chambers and other meeting rooms.
It would provide an opportunity for Councillors to dial in remotely so it would make it more flexible for people to participate in committee meetings which considered Welsh Governments diversity agenda to encourage more people to become Councillors.
The Monitoring officer noted that they felt that there was a lot of description there as well as being quite wordy and it could benefit from an executive summary which was to be fed back.
· Councillor Hourihane asked as to how long the Council would be tied into the Teams software.
The Head of Law and Regulation stated that the Council have taken a policy decision to stick with Microsoft Teams as other software did not provide the same data security that Microsoft provided.
Members and other officers could attend other meetings/events on Zoom but the sharing of confidential information on Zoom was not advised.
The Microsoft Licences were part of the 365 package that the Council pay for, and Zoom would be quite expensive if paid for as an extra.
· Councillor Hughes welcomed the Welsh language paragraph and that it was an opportunity for the potential to improve the use of Welsh language and they expressed a wish to move to statutory rather than guidance which could fall lower down in priority and to use Welsh language across the board more publicly.
· Councillor Hughes also stated that there was a real need to think about how Chairs operated as they would need to be more tech savvy as they would need to have new skills dealing with Councillors attending remotely and in person.
· Councillor Hughes provided feedback on the problems encountered in Chairing which sometimes came from the technology used by the public which wasn’t always up to scratch.
The Head of Law and Regulation stated that in relation to Welsh language one of the advantages of Zoom was a simultaneous translation. Microsoft have given their word they would develop that Welsh translation function as simultaneous translation was key going forward. There was a function on Teams for translation, but it was not easy to use and was not simultaneous, but it was being looked at as part of the project.
The Head of Law and Regulation stated that they agreed with the point regarding training. Councils would need to put in sufficient training for members as it was a different skill set. Hopefully with the Public-i software and how it broadcasts from the Chamber would make things easier for the Chairs. If there were any concerns or recommendations this could be fed back to the software providers, so any comments Members wanted to make would be taken on board.
· Councillor Watkins asked how we would get public participation increased and was there a process whereby they could be notified about meetings.
The Head of Law and Regulation confirmed that the Committee would discuss this as part of the work programme later and that the legislation would need to be looked at.
It was explained that the Council needed to decide what level of public participation was needed and we needed to allow this to happen, and the systems were flexible enough to allow this.
It was discussed that there had been problems with people joining Teams live events e.g., Police joining Council Meeting as a Live Event which could be a technical issue on the Police end.
· Councillor K. Thomas referred to the note about Welsh language which implied that there would be a consultation with the public on Welsh language.
The Head of Law and Regulation confirmed that there would be no consultation with the public on Welsh Language and the Council were doing the minimum to comply. The aim was for a simultaneous Welsh translation as seen in the Senedd.
· Councillor K. Thomas questioned public access and as to whether there was any data on whether the public have accessed this.
The Head of Law and Regulation stated that public speaking in meetings is what Welsh Government were focused on and that the legislation wanted something proactive in the decision-making process.
· Councillor K Thomas suggested that people were better served giving them an insight on policies and we could inform the public on how we do things.
The Head of Law and Regulation stated that broadcasting committees live was not a legislative requirement, but it was something the Council practised and that under Covid legislations it was different as no one was allowed come into Council buildings. Once social distancing ended there was no legal requirement to do that. Under new legislation it stated that for the main Council meetings they should be accessible to the public but not necessarily broadcasted live. However, broadcasting live was good practice.
· Councillor M. Evans stated that it was important to learn from public engagement and to publicise the Council meetings but that it was necessary to have a facility available to people to inform them of what we do and do we publicise this.
The Head of Law and Regulation agreed and stated that this could be included in the work on developing Public Engagement and Participation Policy.
Councillor C. Evans stated that engagement increased when people cared, and they were involved. Councillor C. Evans also stated that public questions at Council at appropriate times was something to look forward to, could dispel rumours and opening things to the public should be embraced.
Councillor J. Hughes stated that the Council had a good Facebook page, and this could be used to send monthly meetings to the public without too much cost. The public would access it on this forum.
The Head of Law and Regulation agreed that there was a well-established Facebook and Twitter page to get public messages across and was happy to pick this up as part of the piece of work on public engagement.