Posted: 31.07.20 at 12:14 by By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Mumby
Somerset County Council will continue to hold virtual meetings until at least November as its efforts to combat the coronavirus continue.
The county council – and Somerset’s four district councils – have been holding meeting virtually since the spring, following new guidance from central government.
The council has said it will continue to operate in the current fashion, holding meetings using Microsoft Teams and then live-streaming them via its YouTube channel.
However, it will lobby the government to allow ‘hybrid’ meetings to be held in the future – where meetings are still streamed online but a small number of people are allowed to attend in person.
The issue was briefly debated by the full council when it met virtually on Wednesday morning (July 29).
Monitoring officer Scott Wooldridge said it was not currently possible to move to hybrid meetings since they were not covered by the government’s regulations on council business.
He said in his written report: “Democratic meetings in a meeting venue are still not allowed during the emergency, and we need to continue to use the virtual meeting regulations to support holding democratic meetings.
“Whilst technology and support exists to enable virtual democratic meetings to take place, there remains a need to manage expectations as the council’s resources are still prioritised towards the Covid-19 emergency response.
“Consequently, it is not considered possible for the next few months that committees can fully return to their usual level of business and lines of enquiry.”
Several parts of the constitution which were suspended in late-March will now be reintroduced – including the procedure for councillors or scrutiny committee members to call in decisions by the cabinet, and the provisions for calling an emergency full council meeting.
Councillor Jane Lock – who leads the Liberal Democrat opposition group – welcomed the changes being brought in.
She said: “I welcome this move towards getting back to normal – whatever the new normal may look like. I look forward to moving towards hybrid meetings.”
Councillor Liz Leyshon urged the council to move towards holding hybrid meetings as soon as possible, in light of poor internet connections and other technological problems across the county.
She said: “Not everyone can access YouTube. We have to understand that connectivity and access to anything technical cannot be a given.”
A further review of the council’s meeting arrangements will be carried out around the full council meeting due to be held in late-November.