Ron Simpson: Is it time for debates to go live on Twitter?

Ron Simpson
Ron Simpson
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There were several interesting debates and decisions taken at this month’s meeting of Uppingham Town Council.

Members agreed to move toward building public toilets on Tod’s Piece by working in partnership with the Football Club.

A future housing density of around 25 homes per hectare, as proposed in the second draft of the Uppingham Neighbourhood Plan, was endorsed.

There was also a lengthy debate about, and a decision against, participating in the county’s proposed three day World War I commemoration event at Kendrick Barracks.

It was agreed that the town should organise its own “more solemn” affair.

Of lasting significance for open government, however, was the short debate on a letter received from the local newspaper editor seeking approval for members of the public and media representatives to be allowed to tweet on social media during meetings and perhaps, occasionally, film proceedings.

The standing orders of the council currently prevent any recording or filming.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has made it clear that in the interest of open government and transparency local councils should encourage such activity and not cling to outdated rules.

The Press are understandably looking to local authorities to follow this guidance.

The impact of the internet and the growth of social media have transformed reporting capability and public expectation of news organisations.

Instant or early notification of events is becoming the norm, with national media indicating this week that over a third of over 65s now access the worldwide web every day.

The Office for National Statistics also reported this week that access to the internet using a mobile device had more than doubled over the past three years, across all age groups, to more than half of all connections.

Use of Twitter and Facebook represents a large element of that growth. Clearly smartphones and tablets are a phenomenon that local government must come to terms with!

Community Partnership Uppingham First has had a presence on Twitter and Facebook for some time with over 500 followers on Twitter.

It provides a useful tool for rapid communication. It has also proved particularly useful to draw attention to website updates at www.uppinghamfirst.co.uk with several hundred people logging onto the website following a tweet.

Critics of Twitter can rightly point on occasions to inane drivel sometimes tweeted, but serious users can find it a useful business tool.

Love it or hate it, it clearly fulfils a modern social purpose - communication on the move.

In the case of Uppingham Town Council a considered response was thought appropriate.

Concern for staff and recent cases of abuse via Twitter occupied some councillors’ minds. Two councillors have been tasked with preparing a report on the way forward while the town clerk enquires about updated standing orders due from the Association of Local Councils.

As one member put it, “Perhaps a trial period of approval is the wisest way forward.”

We shall have to wait until next month to learn the final outcome.