That the members of the Executive consider the options outlined in section 5.7 of the report and then make a proposal to the Chief Executive Officer for recommendation, under his emergency delegated powers, to full Council for review at their meeting on 21 July 2021.
Considered – A report of the Assistant Chief Executive (Legal and Democratic Services) presenting options for holding formal committee meetings from 21 July 2021 onwards.
County Councillor Carl Les introduced the report acknowledging the advantages of the two options currently available i.e. meetings held remotely (the savings to be made in time, cost and carbon) and meetings held in person (the benefits gained from social interaction for members pre-meeting and the Members being seen to make the decisions).
He suggested that meetings continue to be held remotely until after the summer, with a review in September based on the Covid infection rates over summer, the number of hospitalisations and deaths, and the ping rates for social-isolation. He highlighted the present uncertainty around the rates going up and proposed a further recommendation to July Council, that the November Council meeting also be held remotely. He suggested the proposed September review could look again at the need for the November Council meeting to be held remotely, and if required, the Chief Executive Officer could be asked to take a further decision on whether that was still necessary.
He also suggested the review could take account of any decision by the government regarding the introduction of new regulations that enabled lawful remote access formal committee meetings to take place, expected later in the year.
Executive Members agreed it was a sensible approach. They noted the increased engagement of the public in decision-making meetings because of them being held virtually, and agreed some form of virtual meetings could be beneficial going forward. However the benefits of face to face meetings was also recognised and therefore it was suggested that a hybrid approach should also be considered, subject to the appropriate technology being put in place.
Executive Members therefore agreed to propose option 1 in paragraph 5.7 of the report i.e. to carry on holding the remote access, live broadcast informal meetings with any formal decisions required by those committees subsequently being taken by the Chief Executive Officer under his emergency delegated powers, taking into account the views of the committee Members and all relevant information.
Attention was also drawn to paragraph 5.10 of the report, which suggested a continuation of virtual meetings would require full Council to agree that not attending a physical meeting in person for a 6 month period (as opposed to continuing to attend virtual informal meetings), would not disqualify a county councillor under the automatic vacation of office provisions set out in section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972. Members agreed that should also be included in their recommendations.
Resolved – That the following proposals be put to the Chief Executive Officer for his recommendation to full Council, using his emergency decision making powers:
i. Remote access, live broadcast informal meetings be continued with any formal decisions required by those committees subsequently being taken by the Chief Executive Officer under his emergency delegated powers, taking into account the views of the committee Members and all relevant information;
ii. The continued use of remote access, live broadcast informal meetings be reviewed in September 2021, to include giving further consideration to the benefits of remote working e.g. carbon reduction, financial savings and greater public participation, with a report to full Council in November 2021;
iii. The meeting of the County Council on 17 November 2021 be held as a remote access, live broadcast informal meeting;
iv. Any decisions necessary to enable virtual meetings for members to continue and to determine which committee meetings should be held virtually (as informal meetings) and which should be held physically (as formal meetings) continue to be delegated to the Chief Executive Officer, in consultation with the Leader, This to be reviewed in September 2021;
v. Not attending a physical meeting in person for a 6 month period (as opposed to continuing to attend virtual informal meetings) will not disqualify a county councillor under the automatic vacation of office provisions set out in section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972.