Should councils be allowed to continue doing virtual meetings?

“I think all the evidence is out there to show that actually Zoom has done more… [and] has been instrumental in getting people involved.”

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The government is asking councils for feedback on their experience of remote meetings:

Local authority remote meetings: call for evidence – GOV.UK

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It seems that only occasionally do councillors find it a problem to log on and zoom:

This is why four Thanet councillors have less than two-thirds attendance at meetings | InYourArea News

As is there occasional technical disruption of meetings:

Councillor calls for review to ensure Lichfield District Council meetings aren’t disrupted by technical issues – Lichfield Live

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These very public meetings have shown some of the issues faced by councillors.

Whether the treatment of women councillors:

Former Mayor alleges shocking behaviour towards women in politics after being told to “shut up” at Penketh Parish Council meeting

Or the treatment of the public:

Vale of Glamorgan council criticised for barring public from crucial meetings – Wales Online

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The District Council is asking the government to keep the current system going:

17 March 2021 – Council lobbies Government to allow virtual meetings to continue – East Devon

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As is North Devon:

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Councillor champions benefits of continuing virtual meetings in North Devon

Councillor David Worden (South Molton, Liberal Democrats), put forward a motion at a council meeting on Wednesday, January 13, requesting the flexibility to host meetings both virtually and physically.

His successful motion stated: “The introduction of virtual meetings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a success and has brought many advantages. Initially, some found it strange getting used to using Teams or Zoom, but it has enabled the council’s work to continue during difficult times. Councillors have quickly got used to the new etiquette, and the debate is as lively and informative as ever. On occasions, face to face meetings would have been preferred, but this council notes the advantages of being able to have remote meetings.”

Councillor champions benefits of continuing virtual meetings in North Devon |

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The person who highlighted the importance of virtual meetings last month has done so again:

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Jackie Weaver has joined critics of a government move to end virtual council meetings in England from May.

Minister Luke Hall has written to local authorities saying the government is under too much pressure to fit in legislation to allow them to continue.

Ms Weaver, who rose to fame after a meeting of Handforth Parish Council went viral, said it would be “dreadful” to bring them to an end…

The Local Government Association also called for the decision to be reversed. Chair of the organisation, Councillor James Jamieson, said reintroducing face-to-face meetings “could easily involve up to 200 people in one room, even before adding in members of the public and reporters” – so their return would pose a “significant challenge” to councils to make them Covid-secure…

Like many other organisations, local councils were forced to go online in 2020 due to the pandemic and restrictions on public meetings. Emergency legislation was passed in the Commons to give them the power to do business over video conferencing tools, but the temporary law is due to run out the day after the local elections on 6 May…

Mrs Weaver – the chief officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils – told BBC Radio Derby it would be “dreadful” to bring virtual meetings to an end. “I think all the evidence is out there to show that actually Zoom has done more… [and] has been instrumental in getting people involved. We can see it in the figures [with] people turning up. We are seeing it in the people that are showing interest in elections. I am not saying all council meetings should be held virtually and I know a lot of my councils are keen to get back to face-to-face meetings, but it would be so helpful, so valuable to be able to hold Zoom meetings.”

Jackie Weaver: ‘End virtual council meetings? Dreadful idea’ – BBC News

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Finally, here are a few case studies from the LGA:

Remote Council Meetings: Case studies | Local Government Association

   
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