Councils to be allowed to hold virtual meetings under emergency powers
Town, district and county councils will be able to hold remote meetings after the government introduced emergency powers because of the coronavirus outbreak.
It means Newmarket Town Council, West Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire district councils, and the county authorities in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire will be able to hold virtual public meetings over video or telephone conferences.
Other parish level councils will be able to meet remotely under the new the legislation, paving the way for Soham, Mildenhall and others to meet.
The new laws, which come into force tomorrow, will see requirements for physical attendance at meetings lifted, and public and press access to meetings maintained via virtual means.
Removing the requirement for councillors to appear in person will help slow the spread of the virus by ensuring councillors and council staff can remain at home for the duration of the pandemic.
Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, 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.”
And James Jamieson, Local Government Association chairman, said: “Councils are working tirelessly as they rise to the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus crisis.
“Giving councils powers to hold meetings remotely is important to maintain local democracy and allow critical decisions to be made during this public health crisis.
“Councils need to respond quickly and make very many key decisions. They can now do so and remain open, transparent and accessible to the public.”
The law change was agreed in parliament yesterday and applies to all local authorities in England. It covers public meetings, including cabinet and committees until May 7, 2021, but the government can agree to move the date forward if medical and scientific guidance on the need for social distancing is relaxed.
The government is also expected to introduce a new law preventing any by-elections, local polls or referendums being held before May 6, 2021, in line with the police and crime commissioner elections which are postponed.