Government legislates for councils
Councils in Somerset faced with the COVID-19 crisis have been looking for new ways to hold meetings. Or at least holding them virtually. Today a new piece of legislation puts their position on a more sure legal footing.
New legislation will remove the legal requirement for local authorities to hold public meetings in person during the pandemic. This will enable councils to make effective and transparent decisions on the delivery of services for residents and ensure that local democracy continues to thrive.
Meetings must remain accessible whilst ensuring that councillors, staff and the wider public are able to follow government advice by staying at home to stop the spread of COVID-19 to protect the NHS and save lives.
However this does not allow councils to hold meetings away from public scrutiny.
The requirement for public meetings to be made accessible to the public remains, but it will be up to each local authority to decide how they conduct meetings, how voting procedures work and how to ensure that the public has access.
The point has been made forcefully by Local Government Association Chairman Cllr James Jamieson “Giving councils powers to hold meetings remotely is important to maintaining local democracy and allowing critical decisions to be made during this public health crisis. Councils need to respond quickly and make very many key decisions. They can now do so while remaining open, transparent and accessible to the public.“
Whilst many of our councils have put in place emergency powers to allow them to continue to function, which is important, the ability of the public to scrutinise them must also be part of the process and that may yet need more thought….