At the Cheshire East Council meeting on Thursday 24th February 2022, the Council voted to support a campaign to persuade government to allow remote meetings for councils.
This campaign has the support of the Local Government Association and local celebrity Jackie Weaver.
Currently, local councils in England cannot hold their meetings remotely. This was temporarily relaxed during the COVID lockdown in 2020/21 but that ended in April 2021 when the temporary statutory regulations expired.
The Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) and Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) have been lobbying the Government without success to renew the legislation.
The period of lockdown showed that remote meetings bring so many benefits to local democracy and residents, apart from the obvious public health safeguards. It is no longer just a response to COVID. Local democracy benefitted from:
· Increased attendances at remote meetings by both councillors and the public
· Significant cost savings arising from much less travel to meetings
· The environmental benefits of less travel, particularly in the large county authorities
· A better work/life balance for councillors
· Improved equality of access to meetings for all and opening up opportunities for more people to stand for election as councillors
· More transparency and openness for the public to see council meetings
· An option to move meetings online when there are constraints, for example bad weather such as snow or flooding.
The Conservatives voted against the motion, but put forward no meaningful reason to justify their votes – only putting forward spurious procedural objections, claiming that the wording put forward by The Association of Democratic Services Officers and Lawyers in Local Government was not legally sound.
Alift Harewood MBE, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield West & Ivy, said, “We do not wish to impose remote meetings, but Councils should have the choice to decide how they run their meetings depending on local circumstances.’
Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, and Leader of Cheshire East Council, said, “Local councils know their communities better than does Whitehall. We need to provide access to meetings for residents and businesses. Remote meetings should be an option in a place as large as Cheshire East.’