To consider any business which, by reason of special circumstances, the Chairman proposed to accept as urgent under Section 100(b)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.
The Chair provided the Panel with information received the Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government which set out how virtual meetings would not be permitted beyond May 6th 2021. The Chair felt that it was important for the Panel to discuss the consequences of this and the way forward.
The Senior Policy and Performance Officer provided additional information on the legislation and explained that officers were currently looking at the way forward and this would be discussed with Members.
Councillor Kemp addressed the Panel under Standing Order 34 and asked the Panel to make strong recommendations to the Government to encourage virtual meetings to continue, as requiring officers and Councillors to come ‘back into the room’ presented many risks.
Councillor Ryves addressed the Panel under Standing Order 34 and stated that he hoped that meetings, either virtually, or in person, would continue to be recorded and available for the public to view online. Councillor Moriarty stated that this was on the Work Programme for the Panel to consider.
Councillor Beal commented that if the necessary precautions were taken, then meetings should be able to resume in person, especially now that vaccinations were being rolled out.
Councillor Humphrey stated that he preferred virtual meetings and would be comfortable with virtual meetings extending, but consideration would need to be given to dates of meetings, public participation and venues.
Councillor Dickinson reminded those present that not all officers and Members will have had their second vaccination by the time the provision for virtual meetings ended.
Councillor Joyce addressed the Panel under Standing Order 34. He referred to the statistics available on the amount of people vaccinated, and the risks associated with bringing meetings back ‘in person’. He suggested that the Council lobby government to say that the provision should be extended, to include statistics and data. He also explained that if meetings were held back in the room, they would have to be open to the public.
Councillor Rust addressed the Panel under Standing Order 34 and stated that public and Member participation in meetings had increased since they were held virtually. She also indicated that she would like to see a blended approach to meetings, where some Members were in the room and others could join virtually. She also made reference to large venues in the Borough which could be used to host meetings.
The Leader of the Council Councillor Long explained that officers would be looking at measures to ensure that council meetings were compliant with the Law and accessible. He explained that his priority was the safety of all of those involved in meetings.
The Chair also indicated that he would be calling a special Corporate Performance Panel meeting in due course to discuss further the implications for ‘in person’ meetings.
Councillor Morley addressed the Panel under Standing Order 34 and commented that any response to the government should highlight the amount of Members who were in the vulnerable category and the efficacy of the vaccine.
Councillor Parish commented that hybrid meetings would be a good first step in transitioning back into in person meetings.
Following the request from the Local Government Association, the Corporate Performance Panel requested that the Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer respond to Government highlighting that the change to physical meetings after 6th May is premature.