The introduction of virtual meetings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a success and has brought many advantages. Initially some found it strange getting used to using Teams or Zoom but it has enabled the work of the Council to continue during difficult times. Councillors have quickly got used to the new etiquette and the debate is as lively and informative as ever.
On occasions face to face meetings would have been preferred but this council notes the advantages of being able to have remote meetings.
- Many of North Devon’s councillors live quite a distance from Barnstaple. For some it is an hour and a half round trip to attend a committee meeting. It isn’t always easy, particularly during winter time to attend all the meetings because of inclement weather and work commitments. Often there are meetings in the morning, afternoon and evening with some time in-between. That time is not wasted if members are able to attend remotely from home.
- NDC has declared a climate emergency and by attending meetings via Teams or Zoom we are not driving and using non-renewal resources but are cutting down on our carbon footprint – a priority of this council.
- Virtual meetings have saved the council a considerable amount of money during this financial year as, for example, travel expenses have been very much reduced. As we are facing a significant short fall in funding for the foreseeable future any saving is helpful.
- Councillors wish to attend the NDC committees but are also keen to attend meetings of the Parish Councils within their wards. Some are also County Councillors and inevitably there is often a clash of dates. This means that councillors have to choose which to attend. The result is less engagement with the District Council, or the County Council or the Parish Councils. Having remote meetings means that councillors can more easily attend most of the meetings, to the advantage of all the councils.
- The engagement of the public and press has also generally increased (the exception probably being the planning committee). The level of reporting about council business has increased as physical meetings no longer attracted the local press due to cutbacks in their staff.
- For some councillors who have work commitments, mobility issues or are carers remote meetings have been easier for them to attend. This may well help to attract a wider age range of potential councillors in future elections.
This Council would like to have the flexibility to hold remote and physical meetings. We recognise that some meetings are better dealt with physically and we also recognise that perhaps a hybrid model could also work successfully.
This Council resolves to ...
- Write to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) urging that the temporary change to the meeting rules set out in the Local Government Act 1972 be made permanent so that after May we have the flexibility to hold meetings remotely or physically or by using a combination of the two.
- Write to our M.P., the County Council and Parish Councils asking for support for this flexible approach to council meetings.
- Once our request is successful to explore the use of technology to develop remote meetings even more in order to attract a wider audience.