New Clause tabled by Baroness Mcintosh of Pickering (Conservative) would enable local authorities to meet virtually.
It is based on regulation 5 of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, made under section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.
Reporting on the amendment, the LGA set out its position as follows:
- We support this new clause. The LGA has been long calling for urgent legislation for all remote council meetings and we responded to the Government’s consultation on remote meetings in June 2021.
- Over the course of the pandemic, councils conducted all of their council business remotely. Councils reported to us that virtual meetings allowed for critical decisions to be made democratically and without delay during this emergency period.
- Key benefits include the resilience of democratic processes and reduced reliance on delegating decisions to officers in times of crisis and flexibility, resulting in better councillor attendance and drastically increased resident engagement with council meetings.
- Councils also noted that physical meetings can be a barrier to attendance for some individuals and that virtual meetings can be more accessible. Disabled people and people with caring responsibilities or working commitments can find virtual meetings easier to access; this applies to residents and councillors alike.
- If the flexibility to hold online meetings is restored to councils it is essential that the Government avoids being overly prescriptive about the circumstances under which councils can use virtual and hybrid meeting formats.
- Councils and councillors are best placed to decide how and when to use different meetings formats to balance the advantages and disadvantages of different meeting options and reflect the variety of local authority types and governance arrangements. Councils will need considerable flexibility for local determination as to how and when to utilise virtual and hybrid meetings to ensure they can realise the benefits of different meeting options to suit their local context.
- We continue to urge the Government to publish the findings of the consultation as quickly as possible.