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Swale council leader Andrew Bowles defends decision to spend £55k on recording equipment

By Hayley Robinson

Spending £55,000 on recording equipment so members of the public can watch Swale council’s meetings from home has been defended by the leader.

In an open letter Cllr Andrew Bowles says he felt the need to respond following the level of comment about the decision after the details were published last month.

The cost included new audio and visual gear and TV screens which have been installed in the cabinet chamber and adjoining committee room of Swale House, East Street, Sittingbourne.

Council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles
Council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles

The audio went live at the cabinet meeting last Wednesday and will eventually allow for full web-casting next year.

Soon residents will also be available to view the debates on the internet, similar to a service provided by Kent County Council.

Secretary of the Sheppey Sunday Football League, Mark Rogers, described the move as ludicrous after he explained how he has tried and failed for years to get funding from the council to improve “barbaric” conditions at some of the Island’s grounds.

Responding to the criticism, Cllr Bowles said: “Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has made it clear through various initiatives that he wishes to ensure a strong and modern local government where councils’ business is open and transparent to their electorates and they are genuinely accountable to local people and communities.

“As a result, councils are now expected by regulation to allow any member of the public to photograph, film, or audio-record all public meetings.

Swale council's HQ in Sittingbourne
Swale council's HQ in Sittingbourne

“The current audio system had reached the end of its useful life and was due to be replaced anyway.

“This was an appropriate time for Swale to secure a modern, 21st professional recording of meetings to take place and provide an accurate record of what was said and by whom.

“I am satisfied that we have acquired a system that will serve the council and the communities it represents for many years to come.

“After all, isn’t that what democracy is all about?”

The letter can be seen in full by visiting www.swale.gov.uk

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