NKDC leader supports return to remote council meetings

North Kesteven District Council’s leader said he would support a return to remote decision making as councils continue to meet face-to-face despite tighter restrictions against the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
NKDC offices EMN-190402-142820001NKDC offices EMN-190402-142820001
NKDC offices EMN-190402-142820001

The Local Government Association (LGA) earlier this week called for the government to reinstate legislation which allowed councils to meet remotely during the original lockdown restrictions.

Chairman James Jamieson said that with government’s work from home order, which aims to slow down the spread of Omicron, forcing councils to meet was an “unnecessary public health risk for elected members and officers to take”.

“Holding face-to-face council meetings, with supporting staff, could easily involve up to 200 people in one room even before adding in members of the public and reporters,” he said.

He added that councils demonstrated over the pandemic that it is possible to hold formal decision-making meetings in a remote or hybrid manner.

The LGA recently conducted a survey which showed that nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of councils saw a drop in councillor attendance at statutory council meetings and 73 per cent reported that public attendance at council meetings had also fallen.

Increasing numbers of councils have cancelled meetings, restricted attendance and reduced items as a last resort.

North Kesteven District Council leader Richard Wright said that until legislation changed, his council had “no option but to continue” with face to face meetings.

“That said, a reversion to remote decision-making is something I would very much support in the current circumstances as the COVID transmission risk increases,” he said.

“From our experience as an early adopter of remote meetings and in operating the model effectively over a year through initial restrictions, we continued making important decisions on key planning matters, investments and project delivery in a democratically-sound and efficient way which actually facilitated increased public engagement.

“We continue to risk assess each meeting to ensure that every measure is taken to reduce risk to participants and continue to live stream meetings in any event; this ensures we are able to widen access to the meeting for the public – safely, without the need for carbon-creating travel and more successfully than ever before.”

Other Lincolnshire authorities, including West Lindsey, South Holland and the City of Lincoln Council also confirmed their meetings were planned to go ahead.

A spokesman for WLDC said: “Currently it replaces the public gallery, even if/when we return to having a public gallery, we expect to continue live streaming as there is no reason to stop.”

Lincoln and South Holland Councils also both said that they were “just keeping an eye out for anything further coming out of government.”

A spokesman for Lincolnshire County Council leader Coun Martin Hill said his view was “to allow hybrids but also to allow councils to decide locally”.