No more Jackie Weavers? Virtual council meetings set to end

County Hall in Norwich

A High Court challenge over changes made to disability support cost Norfolk County Council more than £120,000 - it can be revealed. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Norfolk councils have raised concerns about keeping people safe as virtual meetings are set to end in May.

The government announced on Thursday that emergency legislation allowing for virtual council meetings will not be extended, a move branded "extremely disappointing" by the Local Government Association (LGA).

James Jamieson, chairman of the LGA, said: "The Government’s own roadmap out of lockdown states that indoor gatherings or events - organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation - cannot be organised until May 17 at the earliest.

"Yet councils will be unable to hold remote meetings from May 7. MPs will retain the right to participate remotely until at least June 21 but the powers-that-be in the House of Commons will not make time available to legislate for councillors to do the same."

Mr Jamieson called on the government to reverse the decision, allow for councils to hold meetings flexibly and not force councillor to hold face-to-face meetings until all restrictions are lifted.

These calls were echoed by Norfolk county council leader Andrew Proctor, who said virtual meetings have worked well over the last year.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

He said: “Time is not on our side but we are looking into the detail and repercussions of the government’s decision not to extend permission for virtual council meetings beyond the May election.

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“We will ensure that whatever we propose will meet the Covid secure regulations."

A North Norfolk District Council spokeswoman warned a new venue might be needed for larger meetings.

Senior officers and members will be reviewing the options in the runup to May 7, she said, adding: "With consideration given to how our vulnerable or shielding members might be affected in their representative roles relative to their own safety and wellbeing.

North Norfolk District Council is doing an IT upgrade, meaning its local search departmet is closed

North Norfolk District Council - Credit: Archant

 "For larger meetings, such as full council or our annual meeting, consideration will need to be given on a possible change of venue, as it may not be possible to host these meetings as usual in the council offices due to social distancing measures.

"However, consideration of alternative venues for such meetings will present some challenges, such as IT and microphone use."

Kings Lynn and West Norfolk council have said they are looking at making arrangements for how meetings can be carried out in a covid-secure way, which may include live streaming of meetings.