It is very disappointing to hear that the court has dismissed the case to allow local councils to continue holding remote meetings on media such as Zoom or Teams. The dispensation to hold remote meetings runs out on the 6th May..As Chair of two parishes, I do not wish to risk the health of fellow councillors, councillors that attend from other councils, the Police and the public by expecting them to gather in a room. Neither of my parishes have their own premises, so we would need to rent a venue (at the tax payers expense) big enough to fit everyone in ‘safely’. That would include councillors that are medically vulnerable to COVID-19 and also the clerk for each council who is an employee of the council. The dismissal of the case has caused massive issues for local councils. From Thursday, the choices for our councils are to meet in a room (assuming we can even rent a room) or delegate power to act to the clerk. Councils have budgeted for community projects for the forthcoming year and as things stand will find it difficult to deliver those projects, so as always, the public will suffer.Yours, John Anderson (Chair).
This is a statement from NALC (National Assn of Local Councils) followed by the court conclusion.
NALC Responding to today’s judgement in the High Court on holding remote meetings, Cllr Sue Baxter, chair of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), said:“I am extremely disappointed that the application to the High Court regarding remote meetings has been dismissed.“All councils must now return to holding physical meetings from 7 May. This includes around 2,000 local (parish and town) councils with elections who must hold an annual meeting in May following those elections.“Such physical meetings, to which all members of the public are entitled to attend, will result in both a health risk given the current pandemic and significant additional costs incurred by councils in securing suitable venues which allow social distancing and other safety measures.“Over the last year, the ability to hold remote meetings has delivered extensive benefits including leading to increased participation and engagement by members of the public with their most local council and the decisions they make about their local areas from tackling climate change to improving health and well being and the provision of highly valued local services.“Given the government’s apparent support for allowing remote meetings, including their evidence to the Court Hearing, I am appealing to ministers to pull out all the stops over the coming days and weeks to introduce the necessary primary legislation. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have already passed legislation to allow for remote meetings and I urge the Government to follow their lead.”
The court concluded that:”…. the Secretary of State was correct in November 2016 and July 2019 to say that primary legislation would be required to allow local authority “meetings” under the 1972 Act to take place remotely. In our view, once the Flexibility Regulations cease to apply, such meetings must take place at a single, specified geographical location; attending a meeting at such a location means physically going to it; and being “present” at such a meeting involves physical presence at that location. We recognise that there are powerful arguments in favour of permitting remote meetings. But, as the consultation documents show, there are also arguments against doing so. The decision whether to permit some or all local authority meetings to be conducted remotely, and if so, how, and subject to what safeguards, involves difficult policy choices on which there is likely to be a range of competing views. These choices have been made legislatively for Scotland by the Scottish Parliament and for Wales by the Senedd. In England, they are for Parliament, not the courts”.