In response to the coronavirus outbreak the Government introduced regulations on 4 April to enable virtual meetings. This was a significant step as, until then, it was a legal requirement for members of committees to attend formal committee meetings in person. Faiulre to be in physical attendance constitutred non-attendance.
Virtual meetings is something that has been muted for a number of years. Some authorities have held virtual meetings for specific sessions. Brighton and Hove hold Governor meetings that way. In Wales, virtual meetings have been used for meetings for some time, albeit on a hybrid basis with some members in attendance and others attending remotely. However, virtual meetings have not been held on such a grand scale as we are now seeing. The new regulations enable local authorities to hold meetings remotely, to be accessed remotely with remote member attendance.
In summary, the regulations enable:
- Full remote attendance
- Virtual public attendance
- Annual council meeting to be deferred until 7 May 2021
- Where practicable, members to be seen and heard
- Where practicable, public participants to be seen and heard
- Access to documents on website to fulfil access requirements
Plus, elections have been postponed until May 2021.
These new provisions are of particular relevance to Police Fire and Crime Panels. Whilst the current regulations are in force until May 2021, it is highly likely things will never be the same again.
With many authorities covering sizeable areas the ability for some, if not full, remote access will assist. Going forward we may see a hybrid option, similar to that in operation in Wales, introduced on a permanent basis across the country. This could assist panels making attendance easier and providing flexibility. The key will be access to the technology. It is worth noting that virtual meetings are now being used in the House of Commons.
In this article we highlight the excellent resource provided by the LGA, which highlights, amongst other things, the platforms being used by Councils up and down the country to implement virtual meetings, as well as their experiences.
Published: 25 April 2020