there can’t be much doubt that 2 Watling Street is all very smart and sparkling and new
and it must be a very much nicer place to work in than the old building which I
cannot imagine was smart or sparkling even when it was new. Drab is the word that
comes to mind.
Last night saw the first council meeting to be held in the new premises and there were very many more people there than is the norm for a council meeting. It wasn’t that Bexley people had taken a sudden interest in politics, the numbers were swollen by former councillors and friends and relations of politicians.
A bar had been installed for those councillors who can’t go long without a drink and almost needless to say it was provided by the Sandhu brothers, one of whom, Avtar, is or maybe was until a day or two ago, Conservative mayor of Dartford. A job that probably wasn’t put out to tender.
The barriers were very sensibly left open and I was advised that a table had been provided for my use. On Day 1 I wasn’t going to argue but it had been carefully placed where one could see very little of the proceedings. The backs of some Conservatives, the UKIP and Labour contingent if one stood to speak and of the top table, nothing at all. The appointed table is at the extreme left foreground in Photo 4.
The seating provided for the public appeared to be considerably less than it was, five rows of fewer than 20 chairs in each behind me and a few more at the opposite end of the room. There may well have been 180 people in the chamber but whatever the true number might have been, it overwhelmed the air conditioning system.
I could see what appeared to be a wireless access point (wi-fi) above the door in Photo 3 but no one I spoke to, including Tim MacFarlane, the News Shopper reporter, had managed to get a connection and there was no mobile phone signal at all inside the chamber, not on the three networks I checked anyway.
There was a camera with pan, tilt, zoom facilities in each corner, so placed that most members of the public were excluded from view and whilst the system would appear to be ingenious it was not in practice wholly satisfactory.
The appropriate camera appeared to be activated by a microphone being switched on which promptly put the speaker in frame. When the microphone was off the video system reverted to a default shot which sometimes lasted only a fraction of a second. The weakness is that councillors have never been good at switching on microphones. Meeting chairmen have been known to support councillors who do not see the need to switch on their microphone.
When no one is speaking the result can be a silent shot. Having said that, the acoustics of the new chamber were probably a little better than the old one and given that the audio visual system is new and may require a little fine tuning it was a decent enough beginning, a far cry from when councillor Cheryl Bacon called the police when Nicholas Dowling produced a broken Dictaphone from his pocket.
The availability of the very well indexed webcast archive is likely to change the nature of meeting reports on Bonkers, on the other hand the statistics suggest that readers spend four or five minutes reading the summary and watching the video archive will take an hour or two.
Yesterday’s meeting was a game of two halves, the ceremonial and the business and each will get the usual coverage here in due course.