From May 7, councils across England will no longer be able to hold virtual meetings as the government ends the measures it put in place to stop the spread of the virus in the pandemic – including allowing authorities to hold meetings via video-conferencing programmes such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype.
Councils had hoped to overturn the decision, however, the High Court ruled in the favour of the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government on Thursday that meetings must resume taking place “in person”.
James Gilbert, Assistant Director of Organisation and Corporate Services at East Lindsey District Council, said: “We’re disappointed with the ruling which will mean the end of remote and hybrid formal council meetings and taking away the flexibility this provided to the council.”
Meanwhile, NKDC’s Chief Executive Ian Fytche said the COVID-19 changes had led to more than 100 members of the public listening in to some meetings — “substantially higher” than could ever be achieved in the council’s chamber alone.
“It is regrettable, given the benefits to the principles of open and accessible democracy, the positive impacts of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and cost savings and the safety and convenience of everyone involved, that the government is not extending provision for remote meetings to continue at present.”
Councils have, however, said they will comply with the new rules and have started to look for solutions in the run-up to the majority of rules being lifted on June 21 — if all goes to plan.
In the county’s capital, the City of Lincoln Council’s Annual General Meeting on May 18 will take place at the Cathedral’s Chapter House, while the authority will open up both of City Hall’s Committee Rooms 1 and 2 for smaller meetings.
In East Lindsey, full council meetings will take place at the Meridian Leisure Centre, while in Boston, the Annual General Meeting will be held at the town’s indoor bowls club and committees will be held at Boston Guildhall.
West Lindsey District Council has postponed its first full council meeting of 2021-22 until June 28 in order to avoid the regulations and is “exploring options for committees”.
North Kesteven plans to continue using its council chambers, however, said it will not accommodate all 43 councillors, while committee meetings will be cut to around half membership, with limits on the number of people able to attend.
Lincolnshire County Council, North East Lincolnshire Council and South Kesteven District Council have yet to agree plans, with the former waiting for the results of Friday’s election before committing to any ideas.
South Holland District Council and North Lincolnshire Council did not respond to requests for information by the time of publication.
The majority of councils said they would continue to broadcast meetings live online where possible.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has started a consultation on the future of virtual meetings in local government and has given authorities until June 17 to respond.