Local democracy and council decision-making are threatened by the Coronavirus outbreak. ADSO is expecting the Government to issue regulations next week to allow for virtual meetings. Key meetings, such as regulatory and school appeal committees, must be able to take place without the need to physically meet.
ADSO is urging all local authorities to find suitable technology to enable them to hold virtual meetings effectively and to protect public rights of access. There are a number of different options and finding the right solution for each Council’s needs will be crucial. There will be opportunities, challenges and risks. Some of the options do not suit larger meetings or the inter-action required for others; reliability and connectivity problems are likely, particularly when councillors will be relying on their home WiFi; and new meeting protocols are needed. Remotely delivered training in using new meeting technology will also be required for chairmen, members and officers. All this against a backdrop of governance arrangements being reduced to a minimum and Councils making increased use of emergency and urgency powers within delegation schemes to make important decisions. Only the most essential meetings will be taking place, so Councils have to be realistic in how much money they spend on technology, that may not be of such use when we return to normality.
Our colleagues across local government are bravely providing essential services during the crisis and Democratic Services Officers and Governance Lawyers are at the forefront of the challenges to keep local democracy going. We are again demonstrating the ability to adapt at speed to ensure that governance processes are agile and flexible and cope with the fast-changing environment, whilst protecting the integrity and transparency of the decision-making processes. We need such dedication and professionalism more than ever in these difficult times.