Councils able to hold meetings remotely during coronavirus crisis

TAMESIDE is among councils across England now able to hold public meetings using video or telephone conferencing during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Legal requirements for local authorities to hold public meetings in person will be relaxed by the government from Saturday, April 4.

It is hoped this will allow councils to maintain transparency in making decisions on key services for residents while also stopping the virus from spreading and saving lives.

New laws stopping by-elections, local polls and referendums being held before May 6, 2021 are also being drawn up, with local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections already postponed until next year.

Local government secretary Robert Jenrick says the move will work alongside the £1.6 billion extra funding councils have received to respond to COVID-19 pressures.

He said: “Local authorities are the backbone of our democracy and they are playing a vital role in the national effort to keep people safe.

“Councillors and staff are already doing the right thing by following our advice to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.

“This includes working from home wherever possible, and the new powers to hold meetings virtually will make that easier.

“It’s critical they continue to provide essential services and find innovative ways to maintain important economic functions like the planning system and they will now be able to do so.”

All types of public meetings will be covered by the new powers, including annual meetings, cabinet and scrutiny committees.

The requirement for these to be easily accessible for the public remains, but each local authority will have to decide how they conduct meetings and how voting will work.

Cllr James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said the new powers were ‘crucial’ in allowing councils to continue to work ‘tirelessly’ during the pandemic.

“Councils need to respond quickly and make very many key decisions,” he added.

“They can now do so while remaining open, transparent and accessible to the public.

“Remote council meetings will crucially help ensure all those taking part stay at home, helping to prevent the coronavirus from spreading and save lives.”

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