Headlines: October 14th, 2008

A local authority is to pilot its first online councillor surgery as part of this year’s Local Democracy Week. The innovative scheme will give people in Bristol the chance to put questions live online to Executive member Councillor Terry Cook on a range of issues affecting the city.

The groundbreaking surgery will take place for two hours on Thursday evening via the council’s website. Local people will be able to leave questions which will be put in a queue and answered in turn by Mr. Cook, who is Bristol City Council’s Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Involvement and the city’s Cycling Champion. The system will ensure questions remain confidential and cannot be seen by other site users.

Mr. Cook said the ambitious trial scheme would allow people to ask any question they wanted about how the council worked and the services it provides. “It means that people can ask questions from the comfort of their home and so don’t need to make the effort to visit a councillor surgery at a specific venue. I’ll do my best to fully answer each question live online, but if there are very specific questions which I need to research to answer, I’ll aim to respond within 24 hours,” he said.

As well as people being able to access the online surgery from their own computers, Bristol’s library service will pilot the system through its Enquire resource, which provides round the clock access to a national online reference service. The City Council says if the system is judged to be a success in this week’s trial it may rolled out to other councillors so they can hold regular online surgeries.