April 3, 2020 3.53 pm This story is over 48 months old

Councils given powers to hold public meetings remotely

Legal restrictions have been temporarily lifted by government

When councils start meeting again they most likely won’t be doing it in person but via video call.

New regulations from the government today (Friday) have temporarily lifted a legal requirement for councils to hold meetings in person due to the coronavirus lockdown.

However, a requirement for meetings to be accessible by the public will remain.

It will be up to each local authority to decide how the requirements are fulfilled.

The government said the changes will “enable councils to make effective and transparent decisions for residents… and ensure local democracy continues to thrive.”

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Local authorities are the backbone of our democracy and they are playing a vital role in the national effort to keep people safe. This change will support them to do that while maintaining the transparency we expect in local decision making.

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

Several councils including West Lindsey, East Lindsey and Lincolnshire County already host some meetings via webcam or live audio, however, this will be the first time councillors have used technology to meet themselves.

A spokesman for West Lindsey said work was already underway to implement the changes, with the plan being to hold their first virtual meeting – planning – on April 29.

East Lindsey District Council’s assistant director for corporate governance said: “When we first became aware of the possibility of remote meetings, we began looking at what technology would be best used to facilitate this.

“We’re currently in the process of testing a number of solutions. Once we’re clear on the best way forward, we will begin hosting meetings – in line with the government’s guidance.”

SUBSCRIBE TO LOCAL DEMOCRACY WEEKLY, our exclusive email newsletter with highlights from coverage every week, as well as insights and analysis from our local democracy reporters.