Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, calls for urgent legislation to facilitate councils being able to host remote meetings in light of the Omicron variant.
“In light of the Government announcing a move to remote working to slow down the spread of the new Omicron variant, the Government must urgently bring forward emergency legislation to allow councils to hold meetings remotely as well as hybrid.
“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. This is an unnecessary public health risk for elected members and officers to take when councils have demonstrated over the pandemic that it is possible to hold formal decision-making meetings in a remote or hybrid manner.
“A recent LGA survey of councils, conducted before the emergence of Omicron, on the impact of returning exclusively to in-person meetings showed that 72 per cent of councils saw a drop in councillor attendance at statutory council meetings and 73 per cent reported that public attendance at council meetings had also fallen.
“Since the emergence of Omicron, we’ve seen an increasing number of councils having to cancel meetings, restrict attendance and reduce items for discussion in an attempt to reduce the risks of transmission. These are decisions taken only as a last resort and are not a long-term solution.
“By introducing emergency legislation to allow councils to hold remote or hybrid meetings, councils will be taking further steps to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant as well as ensuring councils can continue to make democratic decisions, even during times of emergency.”