Merriott PC breaks ranks

The warning from the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), and the Somerset bit of it (SALC), remains clear. The Society Of Local Council Clerks also follows the same line as you will see below. The advice is as follows:

Council Meetings: NALC’s view with which the SLCC agrees is that it is worth highlighting that councils should not be holding meetings in person and wherever possible staff should work from home. If a council needs to “meet” for example to approve the accounts and the AGAR (accounting return every council must make each year) then this should be done remotely.

So we were interested to learn that Merriott Parish Council were planning to ignore it. A Parish Council meeting has been called for Monday evening to take place in the Community Pavilion. The agenda has been published (but not on the council website) and makes it clear that precautions have been taken:

  • The building will not be entered for three days prior and following the meeting.
  • All windows and doors will be left open.
  • Medical face masks will be provided for all attendees.
  • Full strength sanitiser will be provided on entry.
  • Two metre distancing will be observed by all attendees.

In short all normal precautions are being taken. Whilst this discriminates against those in quarantine and self isolation, you might of course take the view that holding a Zoom meeting discriminates against those without good broadband access. Of which there are many in Somerset.

More general advice from Government remains that gatherings of more than 6 people from more than 2 households should not take place. There is an exception for weddings and funerals where a maximum of 30 people is permitted. Merriott Parish Council has 9 councillors which with a clerk and members of the public will clearly exceed the 6 from 2 households rule.

So it is a brave decision to proceed with holding an “in person” council meeting. So far no other council in the South West has been prepared to hold a similar meeting since the lockdown restrictions were put in place on 23 March. But as far as we have been able to ascertain – does not break the law.

Not everyone agrees with the decision though. Parish Councillor Steve Ashton told us “It isn’t just a matter of disagreeing with the decision or even the disregard for the guidance but the hypocrisy argument: Advising only essential travel and meetings (complaining volubly when ‘others’ break the rules) and then convening one ourselves! – which I cannot stomach.”

5 comments

  • Graham pritchard

    As you say a brave decision, I can only wish them good luck👍

  • Zoom does not exclude or disadvantage user with poor Broadband links as they can quite easily join a Zoom meeting by Phone.

    • heleninsomerset

      Have you tried to use a mobile phone in e.g. Bower Hinton? The signal is hopeless at my house and I suspect no better in many other areas.

      • Helen, when I said phone, I meant a traditional telephone (no signal required, just a wall socket) as Zoom provides dial-in numbers in most geos. Of course, it is not as easy to follow as either being there or being able to watch via your computer screen but it does work.

  • heleninsomerset

    Thanks Steve, hadn’t realised that was possible. Though much less useful without video.

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