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Could coronavirus lead to ‘virtual council meetings?’

PUBLISHED: 09:30 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:30 18 March 2020

The chamber at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Dan Grimmer

The chamber at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Dan Grimmer

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Councils are wrestling with how to hold meetings during concerns over coronavirus - with some cancelling and others looking at creating virtual meetings.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil PerryAndrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

A number of councillors are in the age group of 70 plus and/or have underlying health conditions - among those people the government has advised to self-isolate.

Norfolk County Council has cancelled next week’s full council meeting at County Hall. Tuesday’s scrutiny committee meeting did not go ahead and it is understood others will follow suit.

However, it is understood that County Hall is looking at ways through which meetings could take place, including whether they can be done over the internet.

Council leader Andrew Proctor said it was the right decision to cancel full council. He said: “I think we are talking about exceptional circumstances, with the advice which has been given by the government.”

Norfolk County Council's County Hall headquarters in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.Norfolk County Council's County Hall headquarters in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

Labour group leader Steve Morphew said: “Councils need to set an example and make sure our resources are being directly to protecting the community. That’s our priority.”

Great Yarmouth Borough Council has cancelled all forthcoming meetings and is exploring the possibility of virtual meetings.

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Carl Smith, Conservative leader of the council and Labour group leader Trevor Wainwright, said: “It is recognised that a number of borough councillors are within the at-risk category.

“As a result, all face-to-face meetings of councillors are cancelled until further notice, with the council putting in place the IT arrangements to enable virtual committee meetings to take place as soon as possible.”

Norwich City Council’s full council meeting on Tuesday night went ahead, with a handful of councillors present. And it was “scaled down” to only essential business as a response to the situation.

The council said all future meetings would be considered on a case by case basis - with regulatory functions such as planning and licensing still due to continue.

South Norfolk and Broadland Council are going ahead - with enough councillors to make them quorate - meaning there are enough people in attendance for decisions to be made.

But the councils are waiting for guidance from the government and potential legislation changes to shift away from public meetings.

Breckland Council postponed its cabinet meeting on Monday. West Norfolk Councilis cancelling all non-decision making meetings for the next three weeks initially, following recent advice from the government.

MORE: Norfolk hospital has five cases of coronavirus

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