IT is often the small victories you savour the most.

My first victory as the Local Democracy Reporter for St Helens came in my first week – and it involved a desk.

The core function of the LDRs is to provide impartial coverage of local councils and other public bodies, such as NHS trusts and CCGs.

That means observing numerous public meetings every week, scribbling shorthand and often live-tweeting.

My first meeting in the role saw me doing all of this, as well as juggling cabinet papers, on my knee with just a couple of chairs to help. Not an ideal set up.

All public bodies in England are required to provide ‘reasonable facilities’ to
facilitate reporting, which should ideally include a desk.

These basic requirements are set out in the government’s open and accountable local government: plain English guide.

Despite this I still found myself arguing over the interpretation of the guidelines, specifically the ‘ideally’ part.

But this was a battle worth fighting.

For me, the lack of reasonable facilities was a symptom of how much the council had become used to consistent scrutiny from the press and the people they represent.

That isn’t a criticism of my host paper, the St Helens Star, who did cover the council before I was appointed but did not have the resources for a dedicated local government reporter to attend all council meetings.

Instead it is a reflection of the local media landscape in general, and a key reason why the Local Democracy Reporter Service was formed.

It is always important to pick your battles as a journalist, but I felt it entirely necessary to stand my ground on this particular issue.

Sure enough the council bought a desk just for me and I have been part of the furniture ever since.

Since then I have clocked hundreds of hours of public meetings and filed countless stories.

And not every story has occurred inside the council chambers.

One of the most challenging days in the role was when the leader of the council stepped down suddenly amid a police investigation.

This particular development received national attention and I was very much the driving force behind the coverage.

Of course, not every story set the world alight but arguably all were of vital importance to local democracy.

And this is why I am incredibly proud to be a part of this ground-breaking scheme, which has already received world-wide recognition.

The aim of the Local Democracy Reporter Service is to ensure the work of those making decisions on behalf of communities receives adequate media scrutiny and coverage.

As of a few weeks ago 100 media organisations are now signed up to the scheme comprising of around 850 individual titles or outlets.

The service is currently celebrating its first anniversary.

To date, nearly 50,000 stories on important local issues have been filed by the 200 LDRs in England, Wales and Scotland to date.

While all of my work is featured in the St Helens Star, it has also been used in print and broadcast by the BBC, the Liverpool Echo, Wish FM, the St Helens Reporter, to name but a few.

In the 12 months I have been in the role I have covered a number of significant public interest stories.

These include proposals to introduce three-weekly bin collections, the state of children’s services following a damning Ofsted report, the borough’s rising suicide rate and the publication of the St Helens Local Plan, the latter of which saw me appear on Radio Merseyside for the first time.

All of those issues would have no doubt been covered had an LDR not been in post, but it is unlikely the reporter would have been afforded the time and scope to cover them in the way I have been.

Perhaps some of the most important stories, at least those that justify the existence of the BBC-funded scheme, are the stories that slipped out during various meetings.

For example, a significant piece of news came out during a scrutiny meeting when a councillor revealed the borough’s police custody suite was to be permanently closed.

It was also revealed during a Clinical Commissioning Group meeting that Whiston Hospital’s A&E department had experienced its busiest day on record as it struggled to contain increasing demand.

And in a meeting of People’s Board, which is made up of various partner agencies, a top GP called for “shocking” solutions in response to the borough’s obesity crisis.

All of these stories were vitally important, and some may never have even seen the light of day had an LDR not been in place.

It has also been painfully obvious at times that the mere presence of someone from the press has affected the actions of certain councillors.

This is at the heart of the scheme and is something that was said to me and several other LDRs during our initial BBC training.

That is, the real value of the Local Democracy Reporter Service is simply being in the room.

For too long this has not been the case, but the eyes and ears of the public have returned – and are here to stay.

Follow St Helens' Local Democracy Reporter Kenny Lomas (@KendrickLomarr) on Twitter and Facebook