Meetings have been held virtually for over a year. Credit: Newark & Sherwood District Council (inset: Cllr Harris)

Councillors from Newark and Sherwood District Council will today (May 4) vote on a motion to request a permanent extension to virtual meetings.

A change in council rules was put forward by the Government last year, allowing council meetings to be held on platforms such as Teams and Zoom, due to the pandemic.

Councillor Peter Harris’ motion, however, hopes to lobby local authorities and the Government into making the change permanent.

In a pre-written statement ahead of the council meeting, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Southwell highlighted benefits such as a decreased carbon footprint and greater efficiency in the provision of services as reasons for extending online meetings.

He told CBJ Target: “The forced introduction of ‘virtual meetings’ has been a real benefit to the community.

“Not only are we not travelling for an empty and echoing council chamber apart from Councillors and an Officer for nearly every meeting, but people are watching them online too.

“If residents want to contribute, this can be done remotely – as well as in-person in due course.

“The government’s intransigence on banning virtual meetings from next week is astonishing – especially given they allow this for themselves in Parliament.”

If Cllr Harris’ motion is passed at today’s council meeting, they would resolve to:

  • Write to the Government to request that the temporary change to the meeting rules be made permanent so that after May they have the flexibility to hold meetings remotely or physically or by using a combination of the two
  • Write to their local MP’s, the County Council and Parish Councils asking for support for this flexible approach to Council meeting
  • Explore the use of technology to develop remote meetings even more in order to attract a wider audience.

The new, temporary system has allowed councillors to continue providing vital local services to their communities throughout lockdown.

Councillor Malcolm Brock, who has seconded the motion, added: “In essence, remote operations have worked far better than many expected, though at times there have been technical difficulties.

“Whilst I would not wish to move to a future system of exclusive remote workings, the option to do so – or perhaps the possibility of hybrid meetings – makes sense in terms of the management of time and resources.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government only allowed for a transition to virtual meetings on a temporary basis, however, meaning councils are expected to return for face-to-face meetings once it is safe to do so.

(Lead Image and inset: Newark and Sherwood District Council)