Row over phone use in Leeds City Council meetings

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Leeds councillors have been advised to stop using mobile devices in public meetings so much after complaints from members of the public watching via live internet stream.

The authority has not issued an official ruling on the matter.

However the acting chair of a recent full council meeting at Leeds Civic Hall, councillor James McKenna, made a polite request to colleagues at the start of proceedings.

He told colleagues: “Can I remind you to switch your mobile phones onto silent?

“This meeting is video recorded. And there have been comments that councillors spend an awful lot of time on their mobile devices. “Obviously the insinuation is that you’re not paying full attention to what’s going on in here. So maybe it’s something for members to consider.”

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His comments led to a flurry of response on social media sites, with some describing any restriction as a backward step for public engagement in politics, but others suggesting it was “rude” of councillors to not be 100 per cent engaged with live proceedings all the time.

Paul Spink ‏tweeted: “And that [not using devices in meetings] has to be a request??!! #rude. I would be furious if people attending a meeting were showing disinterest and lack of respect by checking phones.”

However councillor Neil Walshaw pointed out that he was “doing engagement rather than playing a game. Plus my work email comes to my phone”. And Conservative councillor Dan Cohen added that using mobile devices “helps people get involved” in local politics in a 21st century manner.

It’s not the first time using a phone or tablet during a council meeting has raised eyebrows. Officials in Rochdale issued a warning after one councillor was criticised for sending a dozen tweets.