Councils should be able to keep using video conferencing technology for virtual and hybrid meetings, even after the pandemic, say local Councillors.
All B&NES public meetings have been held virtually and broadcast live to YouTube since the first lockdown in Spring 2020, due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, the regulations making this legal were a temporary measure and are due to expire in May 2021.
Now, Councillors are bringing forward a motion asking government to grant Councils a permanent option of meeting online. The motion builds on a cross-party letter to the Minister in December and will be considered by Councillors next week.
Lib Dem Councillor Jess David (Moorlands), who will present the motion, commented:
“The whole Council pivoted to virtual meetings last year. This pandemic has been a push towards learning new skills and new ways of working, which was long overdue.
“As someone with a young family, I’ve definitely found benefits to holding meetings virtually. A lot of Council business happens in the evening and the move to virtual meetings has made it easier to fit everything in.
“We’re definitely not saying everything should stay virtual forever. Online meetings have many disadvantages. We all miss real life meetings with our colleagues, and we’ve all heard the dreaded phrase ‘You’re on mute’ a few times too many!
“But this is also about working more efficiently and modernising the way we work. Like any organisation, the council should have the option to meet in person, virtually or a mixture of both.
“I think hybrid meetings are the real prize here. I believe this would be of huge benefit to anyone taking part in a council meeting. Council officers are already looking at the technology we would need.
“Until now residents, officers and councillors have had to travel to the Guildhall for most council meetings. Often people need to wait for hours to make a short statement. This is such a waste of time and resources.
“A hybrid option would be more inclusive and benefit anyone less able to travel, including people with disabilities, parents and carers, or anyone living in a rural area. It would also be safer for many of us, when events finish late at night.
“Although this might seem a bit inward looking, it’s really about modernising the way the council works and making local democracy more accessible.
“The Lib Dems are working to improve transparency and open up the Council, so that local residents have more say in decision making. Allowing residents to participate virtually has a part to play.
“Lockdown has shown the value of broadcasting all the Council’s meetings online. Previously, this was only the case for Cabinet and full Council and members of the public had no choice but to attend other committees in person. Now hundreds of people are watching our committee meetings and webinars online.”
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