You will recall that the LGA (supported by ADSO, LLG and others) recently lobbied the Secretary of State to allow Councils to continue to hold remote meetings beyond the deadline of 7th May 2021 – on the basis that Councils would be able to choose which of its meetings should be held remotely. The LGA received a response from Luke Hall MP (Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government) just before Christmas which included the following:
“To extend the facility for councils to continue to meet remotely, or in hybrid form, would require primary legislation. There is no option to extend the current regulations under the Coronavirus Act 2020 as section 78 (3) contains the sunset date of 7 May 2021. There is considerable pressure on the Government’s legislative programme. However, I appreciate the arguments you have put forward and I will consider the case for this with colleagues in the Government.”
More recently, the Secretary of State (Robert Jenrick) has said that whilst accepting that the provision has been successful, he has no plans to extend the date as it requires primary legislation and there is no vehicle to do that in time for May. He added that whilst it is not possible at the moment, if there is an opportunity to make it more permanent, he will take it.
ADSO questions whether a change in primary legislation is required and, jointly with Lawyers in Local Government, are seeking Counsel’s opinion. We feel that there are options available which do not require primary legislation. Once we have this opinion, we will respond to Mr Jenrick.
We feel that political pressure needs to be put on the Minister to make the necessary changes to the legislation. Could you therefore bring this to the attention of the relevant councillors within your authority and ask them to consider lobbying the Minister either individually or as an authority as a whole.
We are sure you’re familiar with the arguments for the continuation of remote meetings but some of the key ones are:
- Time is running out – there are only five months left before the deadline of 7th May
- Remote meetings support councillors in balancing their meetings, especially in large counties/rural council areas
- They encourage more diverse councillor membership – those with children/caring responsibilities, who are working to stand as councillors
- There is a positive environmental impact of not travelling to meetings by car etc
- Public participation and member attendance at meetings have generally increased
- Provision could be extremely helpful in situations where, for example, a short meeting is convened which brings 20 people in from across the whole authority’s area
- There would remain flexibility to hold in person meetings where appropriate or indeed hybrid/blended meetings if required.
Thank you. We will keep you informed of developments as they occur and would be interested to hear of any discussions that take place in your authority – contact John Austin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
19 January 2020