South Ayrshire Council is "further ahead than any other council" on meetings access, according to leader Peter Henderson.

Cllr Henderson has praised the local authority for being the first to let councillors either stay at home or attend meetings in person at all committees, despite it being the last in Scotland to give public access to meetings.

The council agreed to livestream all meetings, almost a year after it agreed to procure a suitable webcasting service following the ban on press and public during the pandemic.

The lack of access and transparency was one of the major issues highlighted by last week’s damning audit report.

Almost every council in Scotland has provided some form of access to the press and public over the last few months. Clackmannanshire beat South Ayrshire to penultimate place when it published a video of its People committee of September 16, shortly before SAC’s first livestreamon September 21.

Some, such as neighbouring North Ayrshire Council, had livestreaming up and running pre-Covid, while others have either adopted live streaming, posted recordings of meeting or allowed audio access to the public.

This time last year, only four other Scottish councils hadn't provided access, although three of those adopted systems several months ago. In cases where the public did not have access, journalists have often been able to attend online.

Many, including East Ayrshire, have also moved to hybrid arrangements, allowing some councillors to attend the council chambers and others to remain at home while also allowing public access.

Despite its slow uptake of webcasting, Cllr Henderson claimed South Ayrshire Council was at the head of the field, having agreed to set up hybrid meetings across all of its committees.

He said: “This puts us, I believe, further ahead than any other council in Scotland."

Councillors were supportive of the move to expand the access to all meetings, although some were less happy about the time taken.

Conservative Councillor Hugh Hunter said the move was "long overdue".

His party colleague, Cllr Alec Clark, said: “I am delighted to support this paper. It brings back democracy. It allows the public to see how elected members carry out the day-to-day rulings of the council."

Despite the 18-month wait for webcasting to be put in place, Depute Leader Brian McGinley insisted that the council had wanted the system as "quickly as possible".

He said: “I just want to underscore the importance of this technological development. There has been a lot of work taking place behind the scenes and getting the technology up to speed.

“It has been a difficult transformation on the technical side, but also because of Covid.

“I hear members’ frustrations about the length of time it has taken. We have worked diligently to try and bring this forward as soon as we can.

“It was lamentable for me that we weren't able to, during Covid, have meetings of council available to the public.

“It was always our intention to do this as quickly as we could.

“We must make sure we are transparent and we are open so that people can hear how the council is doing its business, how it is making its decisions. It is important for democracy and beyond.

“This is a good step forward and members will have opportunity to express their views and have that on record.”

Councilllor Henderson added: “I just hope that the public will take an interest in how the council works and I look forward to seeing an increase in participation.”