The future of virtual council meetings

30 Mar 2021 01:06 PM

techUK CEO Julian David comments on the government's decision to not extend emergency legislation to enable the continuation of virtual council meetings.

Over the course of the pandemic, councils have been at the forefront in mitigating the impact on communities and ensuring services run as usual as well as rapidly spinning up new ones to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and those shielding. Councils have been able to adapt swiftly, including ensuring vital council business were able to continue by adapting to virtual meetings at short notice last year.

Temporary change in regulations that has facilitated council meetings using video conferencing technology due to the pandemic lockdown is due to come to an end on 7 May. The government announced that it will not be extending the emergency legislation to enable the continuation of remote council meetings. On 25 March 2021 Luke Hall MP Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, wrote to all council leaders praising them for their extraordinary efforts during pandemic whilst confirming regulations on virtual council meetings introduced at start of the pandemic to end on the 7 May 2021. Guidance has been updated to help them operate safely and securely, including using existing powers to reduce the number of face-to-face meetings deemed necessary.

Informing the future of council meetings

Simultaneously the government also launched a call for evidence that seeks to understand the experience of local authorities in the whole of the UK regarding remote meetings, to inform any potential future legislation regarding their use beyond the pandemic.

Commenting on the government's decision, techUK CEO Julian David yesterday said:

“Over the course of the pandemic technology has enabled the delivery of democracy at a local level, allowing councillors to hold decision-making meetings while social distancing restrictions have been in place. Virtual council meetings helped reinvigorate local democracy, with increases in public participation and a renewed sense of place. While we understand the legislative pressures, it is disappointing to see that the emergency legislation will not be extended and there is no proposal for hybrid meetings. Local authorities have proven how quick and successful they can be in adopting new technologies. We believe this is a missed opportunity for both local digital democracy and for the future of local public services. Now is the time for government and councils, as we look to build back better, to be innovative and ambitious, utilising technology to stimulate local economies and renew local democracy.”