Weekly message from Vice Chair, Peter Sass

There’s only really one story dominating every aspect of our lives at the moment – the Coronavirus – so let me begin there. You may have already seen on the website or social media (thanks to those who have re-posted or re-tweeted today) that Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and ADSO have issued a joint statement on the possible impact of the virus on local authority decision-making: https://www.adso.co.uk/joint-statement-from-adso-and-llg-la-decision-making-and-democracy-in-light-of-coronavirus/

Clearly this is a fast-moving situation and we expect more announcements from Government this week. Currently (Sunday 15th March at 5.00pm), there is no direction from Government to postpone or cancel local authority meetings – however we need to be prepared for that to change. The statement provides clarity about the rules on urgent decision-making and officers’ delegated authority. It also makes some useful suggestions for meetings that might have to proceed – such as limiting attendance to the specified quorum level following consultation with groups and ensuring appropriate Member spacing – perhaps by moving all meetings to the Council Chamber. In my own Councils, we have examined our meetings calendars for the next two months and assessed how we would support those meetings and agenda despatches with a 30% and 50% reduction in available staffing resources. We’re also thinking about scaling back the two Mayor-Making Council meetings in May and other events and meetings might be postponed later this week. Possible school closures or early Easter holidays will also have an effect on colleagues who are also parents – so we have to plan for extensive home-working and staff absences in the coming weeks.

We know that ADSO members are also concerned about Education appeals. LLG and ADSO will be writing to the Secretary of State in the next few days to set out the issues and suggesting an extension to existing deadlines plus alternatives to personal attendance at the hearings. We will also raise the issue of the 6 month rule for councillors’ attendance at meetings. That’s not an issue yet but it will be if the situation continues or worsens. We will keep you informed of developments.

You will have also seen the Government’s announcements to postpone for 12 months a range of elections including the London Mayor, Greater London Authority and Assembly elections, English local government elections and Police and Crime Commissioner elections. What we’re not sure yet is whether the subsequent election terms will reduced by one year to get election cycles back on track. If that doesn’t happen, there might be some odd and challenging election combinations in different parts of the UK in future years. Watch this space.

Hopefully by now, you’ve all set your budgets and Council Tax for the next financial year – so at least we’ve not got to do that in this fast-changing coronavirus situation.

We have decided to postpone the commencement of the ADSO open training programme. We had planned for training courses to begin in April, but have decided to delay the start until June. Our training admin partner, East Midlands Councils, is working on a revised timetable, and you can see the draft here:

We will do our best to finalise venues and dates for these courses and publicise them to members as soon as possible.

 

We’ve also decided to cancel the next ADSO Board meeting scheduled for Friday 27th March. Instead, we will review decision-reports remotely and then instigate the Chair’s urgent action arrangements to determine decisions reached by agreement informally. There is a thread on the members forum, worth checking out and sharing your authorities response to the coronavirus.

Finally, ADSO continues to maintain strong partnerships with other governance organisations. Our chair, John Austin, has been a guest this week at the SOLAR conference in Scotland and will provide a report on his attendance in the next DD bulletin. Connecting with other organisations in the governance field helps to explore best-practice and helps with problem-solving.

I’ve just made the mistake of looking at my e-mails – it’s shaping up to be an unusual and very challenging week! Good luck everyone.

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