Council leader calls for virtual meetings to continue until summer

07:00PM, Thursday 18 February 2021

The nation is set to return to a system of face-to-face council meetings in the future – but the leader of the Royal Borough wants to keep holding some meetings via Zoom.

As it stands, the regulations that were put in place to temporarily allow council meetings to be held online rather than face-to-face during the pandemic will expire automatically in May.

Thus far the Government has not announced any plans to extend this or change the rules to allow some or all council meetings to have the option of remaining virtual moving forward.

The Local Government Association is currently lobbying the Government to allow virtual meetings to continue.

Leader of the council Andrew Johnson has said he is not in favour of returning to a face-to-face meetings only model at this juncture.

He would like the option to continue digitally at least into the late summer, as the pandemic is ongoing and will likely still be having an impact in May.

“I’d like to have a hybrid model, a combination of the two,” he said. “Meetings are a little bit more civilised when face-to-face, as opposed to from a computer screen.”

But some meetings could be difficult to conduct in the town hall, especially if social distancing is still in place.

“Where we would struggle is in a meeting of the full council – with all the councillors, officers and members of the public,” he said.

He added that the flexibility also cuts down on attendees travelling distances late at night and that online meetings allow more members of the public to attend.

“It does enable the public to have far greater scrutiny – it enables them to ask questions and engage more regularly,” he said.

“The use of technology has shown us that there’s a better way, a more engaging way.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said: “To extend the facility for councils to continue to meet remotely, or in hybrid form after May 7, 2021 would require primary legislation.

“We have received representations from councils and sector representative organisations making the case for the continuation of remote meetings beyond May 7, 2021 and are considering next steps in this area.”

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