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Anger over government demand to restart face-to-face council meetings

Councils will be helped to reduce the number of meetings that are deemed necessary

26 March, 2021 — By Richard Osley

Town Hall leader Councillor Georgia Gould

COUNCIL chiefs say they are being forced back to face-to-face meetings before everybody has had the chance to get their Covid vaccine jabs.

The government announced yesterday (Thursday) that pandemic rules which allowed Town Hall business to be conducted remotely using videocalls must come to an end on May 7.

Council leader Councillor Georgia Gould said: “I’m appalled at nonsensical decision from government to stop all remote council meetings after May 7. Why should community, staff and councillors be forced to put themselves at risk? This should be left to local places and their public health advice.”

She added: “Our council chamber can only fit 27 people with social distancing. We have 54 councillors, around 10 officers, local media & public attending full council. The only option govt giving us is delegating decisions to single members. What happened to local democracy?”

Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Luisa Porritt, the former MEP who is also a London mayoral election candidate, said: “Forcing councillors, staff and members of the public into Council buildings from May 7 is dangerous and irresponsible. The government’s own roadmap won’t allow groups of six inside the pub until ten days later.”

She added: “Some people needing to attend Council meetings won’t have had their first vaccination by May 7. The Tory Government needs to drop its obsession with forcing people back into the workplace and embrace the opportunities brought by flexible, hybrid working practices. It can help widen access and improve engagement with local democracy.”

A cat gatecrashes a council planning meeting last year

In recent weeks, a coalition of opposition groups and the Labour backbencher Paul Tomlinson have called for a full schedule of meetings to be restored remotely, including all scrutiny committee work.

The government said yesterday (Thursday), however, that councils would be able to “reduce the number of face-to-face meetings deemed necessary”.

Luke Hall, the minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, said: “Councils continue to play a vital role in our response to the pandemic and I am grateful for how they have used emergency powers introduced a year ago to continue to operate at a difficult time.

“As the vaccine roll-out continues and restrictions are lifted, councils holding face-to-face meetings from 7 May are being given the support and guidance they need to do so in a safe and secure way.”

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