Council to hire venue for first in-person meet
CHAMBER NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR POST-COVID RULES
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.
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.