The Local Government Association (LGA) has now published its survey report on virtual meetings. The survey was sent to all principal councils in England and the data captured covers the demand for legislative change, the impact of returning to in person meetings post COVID and the positive and negative impacts of remote/hybrid meetings.
As expected, 95% of those councils responding indicated that they wanted to re-introduce virtual meeting technology as an option at statutory meetings. Findings also point to anomalies where some council committee meetings can still go ahead, such as licensing hearings, leading to a confusing two-tier system. The temporary power to hold virtual meetings was introduced during the pandemic and withdrawn in May 2021 and this feedback shows that there has been an impact on the recruitment and retention of councillors, and barriers created particularly where there are work, caring commitments, health or disability issues.
It’s clear that the sector needs to make it easier to encourage more people to participate in civic life and the option of remote or hybrid meetings for our statutory meetings would bring that so much closer.
This latest survey, which coincided with one undertaken by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), reflects the situation for town and parish councils too. During the government’s call for evidence in March 2021 (on which, more than 2 years on, there has still been no government response), submissions from town and parish councils were among the more than 4,000 responses received and most would have emphasised the benefits of the option of remote meetings.
This is all timely as the House of Lords has just started the Report Stage to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill where peers have an opportunity to look again at the draft bill. The SLCC has written to Ministers urging the government to support the LGA request to support an amendment for legislative change with the limited reinstatement of virtual attendance options and has asked for it to apply to all levels of local authority.
The LGA published survey is here.
Our letter to Ministers ahead of the House of Lords Report Stage of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is available here.
The SLCC is part of the LGA’s Digital Democracy Partnership along with NALC, the Association of Democratic Service Offices (ADSO), Lawyers for Local Government (LLG), the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) and the Society for Innovation Technology and Modernisation (Socitm)