Labour councillors urge government to reverse its decision on remote meetings

Sienna Rodgers

The Association of Labour Councillors – a group that represents around 7,000 local councillors – is urging the government to reverse its decision not to extend legislation that allows council meetings to take place remotely.

The government temporarily removed the legal requirement for local authorities to hold public meetings in person during the pandemic. Councils have been allowed to meet virtually using video or telephone conferencing technology.

But the regulations, which have enabled council meetings to be held in a safe way amid the coronavirus pandemic, come to an end on May 7th unless the government chooses to extend the provisions – and it has not done so.

A letter from minister Luke Hall to council leaders on Thursday revealed that the government had “concluded that it is not possible to bring forward emergency legislation on this issue”, which would be needed to extend the Covid measures.

The executive group of the ALC has now released a statement calling on the UK government to “urgently reverse its decision”, arguing that local authorities should be able to “decide for themselves how meetings take place”.

The organisation of Labour councillors says the Covid arrangements “have made local democracy more accessible”, adding: “We welcome conversations about the benefit of extending the use of online and hybrid meetings beyond the pandemic.”

The move comes after the Local Government Association, chaired by a Conservative councillor, described the decision not to extend the provisions as “extremely disappointing” and pointed out that MPs would still be allowed to vote remotely.

“The case is clear for the ability for councils to continue to be able to hold meetings flexibly. We urge the government to reverse this decision and not force councils to have to hold Covid-19 secure face-to-face council meetings until all restrictions are lifted.

“Holding face to face council meetings, with supporting staff, could easily involve up to 200 people in one room even before adding in members of the public and reporters,” LGA chair James Jamieson said on Thursday.

He added that the LGA, as the representative body for councils, will support an application by a number of other groups to the courts “to declare that councils already have the powers needed to hold online meetings”.

Commenting on the ALC statement today, Alice Perry – a member of the ALC executive as well as Labour’s ruling body – told LabourList: “The pandemic has changed the way the world works. The move to flexible working has had many benefits.

“In many places, council meeting attendance and participation has dramatically increased, strengthening local democracy. Online meetings have been particularly beneficial to councillors on maternity leave or with caring responsibilities.

“You shouldn’t lose your voice when you have children. Online meetings make local government more family friendly and remove some of the barriers the prevent people from becoming or remaining involved in politics.”

Georgia Gould, Labour leader of Camden Council and chair of London Councils, tweeted this week that she is “appalled” by the “nonsensical decision” to no longer allow remote council meetings after May 7th.

Below is the full text of the ALC statement on flexible working.

The Association of Labour Councillors Executive calls on the UK government to urgently reverse its decision to not extend the legislation allowing councils in England to meet flexibly beyond 7 May.

Local authorities should be empowered to decide for themselves how meetings take place based on local public health advice. The safety of the public, our staff and councillors is paramount.

The ALC notes how online meetings have made local democracy more accessible. We welcome conversations about the benefit of extending the use of online and hybrid meetings beyond the pandemic.

Cllr Simon Henig
Cllr Judi Billings
Cllr Alice Perry
Cllr Leigh Redman
Cllr James Dawson
Cllr Amy Cross
Cllr Jackie Taylor
Cllr Lewis Dagnall
Cllr Vince Maple
Cllr Clare Coghill
Cllr Anthony Hunt
Cllr Nick Forbes
Cllr Angela Cornforth

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