Simon Cooke asks on his blog how setting up the videoing of council meetings at Hampshire County Council could possibly cost nearly a quarter of a million pounds.
First off, the council building is grade 2 listed. So there is the planning application which the council need to send to themselves to approve it. So there is the cost of putting that through the system. It doesn’t matter if the council decided to do it, they must always follow rules and procedures to the letter.
Then come the real expensive bits.
They’ve effectively costed out a major re-wire of the council building. This is to handle the many wires will be trailed all over the place to connect up the cameras (more than one) to the central editing suite. A room will have to be equipped for the editing with brand new high power computers and huge LCD screens. They need to be good enough to put subtitles and other graphics superimposed onto the live video. This room will be the most unsuitable so will need quite a lot of structural work, and it will need redecorating as well (though William Morris wallpaper has been excluded by the designer). Having done the video side, the council chamber will now need microphones at every location which will also need re-wiring amongst the benches. As mentioned in the newspaper article, any current microphones used to amplify voices to be heard in the public gallery are unsuitable and will be junked. Also, the current lighting setup will be found inadequate by the highly paid consultants who will recommend higher powered lights to ensure that the chamber shows up nicely on the video feed.
So that’s the main council chamber. Now for the mobile kit for other rooms. These will need wiring in to the specialist network. So multiply the cost of wiring by the number of potential meeting rooms. Don’t take into account that a room has never been used for meetings, it’s the potential that is important. These rooms will also need up to date microphones on the tables and any low energy light bulbs replaced with brighter florescent tubes. Extra cameras on dollies will be needed to handle the potential maximum number of concurrent meetings with a minimum of two per room with one manned for closeups and the other fixed for a wide shot.
So you’ve got the electricians providing power, the AV guys wiring in the video and audio. All done to the instruction by the consultants. They will be repeating work as they won’t be coordinated by the project manager. Then you’ve got the computer people installing and wiring up the specialist network to take the video feeds along with a server to record the video. The builders will be needed to upgrade the editing suite. And finally decorators to make it all look pretty afterwards as instructed by the designer. All looked after by a company which is paid lots of money to organise it all.
There is the on going cost of someone to look after the cameras and someone else to direct the video plus another person to ensure that the network is running smoothly with all the high bandwidth video feeds. And finally a runner to ensure that microphones in the chamber are all pointed correctly. Admittedly they will only be paid for when they actually work, so it won’t be a full time job. But you’re probably looking around £25K/yr for these specialist staff.
So this is how you come to your final bill of £223K over five years. But look at it another way it’s only costing just over £4500 each year to maintain and run the system. That’ll be cost of the electricity for the bright lights, the cameras and the big computers plus some set aside for repairs and replacements for broken kit. Dirt cheap ain’t it?
Bear in mind that the council has banned journalists and the public doing their own videoing of council meetings – effectively do the job for the council for free.
The fact that the video feed will end up on the Internet and downgraded to fit into a 2mb (typical) broadband connection watched on a laptop within a window taking up a quarter of the screen will be ignored. If this was taken into account then a single web-cam set up to feed via WiFi to a reasonably specified computer with off the shelf software to combine the video and the audio feed from the existing PA system and direct it out to the net would be more than adequate. For future playback YouTube or DailyMotion could be used.
Sure the quality won’t be brilliant but you’re not looking for broadcast quality output. But should a council need to look like it’s a professional business (don’t laugh at the back) so has to have the latest and greatest otherwise the electorate will laugh at them for having such a noddy setup, or can they get away with a something that is adequate and is “just enough” and no more.
Have I forgotten any other job creation schemes?