Leicester Mercury

Council to hire venue for first in-person meet


- By AMY ORTON Local Democracy Reporter amy.orton@reachplc.com @amy__orton

first meeting of Leicesters­hire County Council’s new term of office will not take place at County Hall – due to social distancing issues in the 93-seat chamber.

Despite a legal challenge, the government last week ruled that in-person meetings must now take place, with no provision for virtual or hybrid gatherings.

As a result, the county council has had to hire out an alternativ­e venue so all 55 councillor­s can attend and maintain social distancing.

The authority’s annual AGM will be held away from County Hall for the first time since it was built and, instead, members will meet at Holywell Park, on the Loughborou­gh University Science and Enterprise Park (LUSEP).

A Leicesters­hire County Council spokespers­on said: “Government rules mean councils can’t hold virtual meetings (now). As we don’t own a room large enough to hold our annual general meeting in a socially distanced way, we’ve had to hire space at Holywell Park.”

Councils, by law, have to hold annual meetings within 21 days following local elections.

Liberal Democrat


David Bill, who represents Hinckley, said: “This is sheer incompeten­ce on the part of the government. They knew that time was running out.

“How can face-to-face meetings be justified when we are all doing our best to observe social distancing?

“Apart from the health challenge, it makes sense to hold meetings virtually as it saves time, paper and fuel.”

Reacting to the High Court Ruling, Coun James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Associatio­n, said: “It is very disappoint­ing that this last avenue to allow councils to hold online and hybrid meetings whilst Covid-19 restrictio­ns are still in force has not been successful.

“Many will now have to use very large external venues to allow all members of the council to meet in person.

“Councils want to continue to have powers to hold online and hybrid meetings even when restricTHE tions have been lifted. A recent LGA survey of its members revealed that 83 per cent of councils said they would be very likely or fairly likely to conduct meetings both online and in a hybrid way once the coronaviru­s emergency was over if they had the power.

“The current flexibilit­y has been paramount in allowing access for both councillor­s and the public into council meetings.

“Many councils have, in fact, seen significan­tly increased participat­ion by the public in meetings where important decisions are made about planning, housing and the provision of local services.”

He added: “Councils want the flexibilit­y to continue to meet in this way and continue their business, especially in times of emergency such as when flooding occurs or if there is significan­t traffic disruption due to weather conditions.

“The government gave clear evidence at the hearing in support of allowing the option of online and hybrid meetings. Unfortunat­ely, the judgement is clear that primary legislatio­n is needed to allow councils to use technology to hold meetings.”

On the agenda for the first meeting for the newly-elected 55 members is appointing a leader and assigning cabinet roles as well as setting dates for future meetings.

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 ??  ?? GOVERNMENT RULING: County Hall chambers, which was deemed not big enough for councillor­s to social distance
GOVERNMENT RULING: County Hall chambers, which was deemed not big enough for councillor­s to social distance

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