As the Manchester Evening News reports:

Councillors in Salford will be banned from using Twitter in meetings.

Gatherings of the full council at Salford’s town hall have been covered live by councillors via their micro-blogging profiles.

The debates have attracted hundreds of followers, but town hall bosses have now banned members from using the site during meetings.

I have to admit to being rather confused by this opposition to Twitter that’s creeping across a few Town Halls.

The argument is that councillors who are twittering can’t be paying attention, but how can you report on a meeting if you’re not paying attention to it?

At Stockport Full Council (where I’m a twittering councillor) I, like most other backbench councillors, will speak once or twice at most, in a three or four hour meeting.

During the course of the meeting, it’s perfectly OK (or, at least, tolerated) for members to leave the chamber for a comfort break, a fag break or a chat, or indeed to catch up on some reading.

In the last couple of Full Council meetings, there have been two people reporting via Twitter – myself and a reporter from the local paper. (You can read my reports here and here).

Given how few members of the public attend Full Council meetings (on a busy day in Stockport it might be as many as 50 out of our 250,000+ population), anything that promotes proceedings and gets a few more people interested in local democracy is a positive thing.

That’s not to say tweeting is always appropriate. I don’t tweet from any meeting where I’m taking an active role, like Local Area Committees and Scrutiny Committees. I can pay attention and tweet, but I can’t participate and tweet.

Tweeting as a form of reporting is in its infancy – we’re all doing it pretty poorly at the moment and we haven’t quite figured out how to best report sometimes complex proceedings in 140 character tweets, or how to bring divers tweets together to produce a sensible narrative of a meeting.

But it’s a positive development. It’s not going to transform local democracy if, in addition to fifty people hearing proceedings from the public gallery, a few hundred follow the meeting on Twitter, but surely it’s a step in the right direction.

So far, the powers that be in Stockport have been supportive (if mildly amused) of my twittering; and I’m trying to make sure it’s appropriate and doesn’t detract from any contributions I might make to the meetings. I can only hope that continues.