The Local Government Chronical (LGC) reports that unless the Government extends legislation to allow the provision of remote meetings beyond May, local councillors could be disenfranchised.
Provisions introduced in March 2020 under the Coronavirus Act 2020 paved the way for local government remote meetings. However, with the provisions due to end in May, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick reportedly told council chiefs and leaders he would “dearly love” to extend the provisions but reiterated the government’s view that doing so would require primary legislation which there was not time to do before current regulations expire in May.
This view is not shared by Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Services Officers. Their view is that the Government’s view is wrong and they are seeking counsel advice.
LGC reported that LLG president Quentin Baker said he believed it was open to the government to use any bill going through Parliament over the coming months to make amendments to the Local Government Act 1999 or the Cities & Local Government Devolution Act 2016 that would allow remote and hybrid meetings to continue.
“I do think it would be a relatively straightforward thing… The worry is, although we are seeing a fantastic vaccination effort, whether by May we are going to be safe [to hold meetings in person]?
“Elected members are generally an older demographic.. there is still going to be an element of risk and they might feel they don’t wish to attend.”
Adso chair John Austin told LGC his members had begun working on how to hold Covid-secure in-person meetings when the current provisions expire on 6 May.
“Councils are planning for the worst case scenario of trying to hold physical meetings by trying to find big enough premises.
“We could have to restrict the number of members that can attend, so rather than 60 you have 20 to get the meeting safe which means that large numbers of councillors unable to attend.”
LCG reported that it understands the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government is considering next steps on remote meetings.