Councils given new powers to hold meetings digitally during COVID-19
Local authorities in England have been given the power to hold public meetings through video or telephone conferencing technology.
Just like many other organisations across the country, councils have transitioned to remote working and holding meetings virtually using tools such as using tools like Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Last week the Ministry for Housing and Local Government (MHCLG) granted councils new powers to also hold public meetings remotely.
As of 04 April to the 07 May councils can now hold public meetings digitally, such as full council and committee meetings. Government has temporarily removed the legal requirement for the public to have physical access to meetings. The technology available to councils means that they can still make effective and transparent decisions on the delivery of services for residents and ensure that local democracy continues to thrive.
The change applies to all local authorities in England and covers all categories of public meetings including annual meetings, cabinet and committee meetings.
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. Councils and partners are sharing guidance and best practice on holding virtual committee meetings, including this useful document from the London Office for Innovation & Technology which covers everything from the technology to voting to the user requirement.
This is a welcome move by MHCLG to enable councils and residents can interact and exercise democracy in a safe and transparent way. While these changes have been made due to social distancing measures, with the vast array of technologies available to councils it is worth considering how these changes can be taken into a post COVID-19 world and society.
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