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Local government bodies call for change in law on remote meetings

27/01/22

Mark Say Managing Editor

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A group of local government organisations have written an open letter and raised a petition calling on the UK Government to pass legislation allowing a resumption of remote meetings.

This comes after the Government indicated it would not have time to pass primary legislation facilitating the change.

In 2020 it temporarily suspended the requirement for councils to hold physical meetings due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but the rule was reimposed last year and the High Court ruled against an application for it to be permanently lifted without new legislation.

The letter has been signed by the Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO), Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny and SLCC for Local Council Professionals.

It says the organisations feel the issue is so important that parliamentary time should be found, both because of the effects of the Omricon variant of the virus and wider reasons for remote meetings.

It says these have increased attendance by councillors and the public, produced cost savings and environmental benefits, improved equality of access to meetings, and helped councillors achieve a better work/life balance.

Local choice

“We know that many councils and their members wish to attend meetings in-person,” it says. “We understand the reasons for that and agree that many such meetings (for example full council) work better when people are together in the room.

“Our campaign is about giving councils the local choice to decide what works best for them.

“Remote meetings have been integrated into business and society throughout the world, including the House of Commons. We want local government to have that same level playing field.

“Scotland and Wales have had the choice to operate remote meetings for some time, without any issues. So why can’t England do the same?”

It adds that there is significant support within local government and beyond for the option of remote meetings, and councils want to be able to decide what is best for them.

The petition calling on the Government to allow town and parish councils to have the choice to meet remotely has been raised by ADSO and LLG. By 26 January it had over 9,000 signatures.

The moves follow a call last month by the Local Government Association for the Government to pass the relevant legislation urgently.

Image from iStock, fizkes

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