How councils will return to “in person” meetings as COVID rules end
Lincoln Cathedral Chapter House, a leisure center and indoor bowls club are among the venues selected by proactive councils as COVID-safe hangouts.
As of May 7, councils across England will no longer be able to hold virtual meetings as the government ends measures it is taking to contain the spread of the virus in the pandemic – including allowing authorities to hold meetings via video conferencing programs such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype.
The councils had hoped to overturn the decision. However, the High Court ruled Thursday in favor of the Department of Housing, Towns and Local Government that the sessions must be resumed “in person”.
James Gilbert, Associate Director of Organization and Business Services, East Lindsey District Council, said: “We are disappointed with the decision to end distant and hybrid formal council meetings and to deprive the council of the flexibility that this gives the council.”
Meanwhile, Ian Fytche, Chief Executive of NKDC, said the COVID-19 changes had resulted in more than 100 members of the public listening to some meetings – “significantly higher” than ever achieved in the Chamber of Council alone could be.
“Given the benefits of the principles of open and accessible democracy, the positive effects of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and cost savings, and the safety and convenience of everyone involved, it is unfortunate that the government does not expand the provision of remote meeting facilities.”
However, the councils have announced that they will comply with the new rules and have been looking for solutions in advance of the repeal of most of the rules, which will be repealed on June 21 – if everything goes according to plan.
In the county capital, the Lincoln City Council’s annual general meeting is held on May 18 in the cathedral’s chapter house, while the agency opens two council rooms 1 and 2 of the city hall for smaller gatherings.
In East Lindsey, full council meetings are held at the Meridian Leisure Center, while in Boston the annual general meeting is held at the city’s indoor bowls club and committees are held at the Boston Guildhall.
The West Lindsey District Council has postponed its first full council meeting from 2021-22 to June 28 to circumvent the regulations and is currently reviewing options for committees.
North Kesteven plans to continue using its council chambers, but said it will not accommodate all 43 council members while committee meetings will be reduced to around half the membership, with a limit on the number of people who can attend.
Lincolnshire County Council, North East Lincolnshire Council and South Kesteven District Council have not yet agreed on plans. The former wait for the results of the election on Friday before committing to any ideas.
The South Holland District Council and North Lincolnshire Council did not respond to requests for information at the time of publication.
The majority of councils said they would continue to broadcast the meetings live online whenever possible.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has launched a consultation on the future of virtual meetings in local government and has given authorities until June 17th to respond.
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