As the Coronavirus crisis continues, local councils are gradually accommodating to the situation and starting to find ways to meet, debate and take decisions. Albeit online. An abortive start in South Somerset, where pornography intervened to liven up the proceedings, compelled local authorities to think deeper into how they held the meetings in future so that the public could engage and councillors could debate and vote. Somerset County Council has issued meeting guidance and contact details for registering to gain access to their first tentative meetings scheduled for Wednesday 6th May . These will be Adults and Health Scrutiny Committee at 1000hrs and Children and Families Scrutiny at 1300hrs
Somerset County Council Labour group Leader, Leigh Redman (Bridgwater South) is Chair of the Children & Families Scrutiny Committee and wants to ensure that people are aware of the meetings and are encouraged to take an interest. He says “Here is the link that will have a calendar so that you can see what meeting is when and then the links to individual committees and agendas/paperwork are here. The Press and the Public can ask a question or simply listen in as with normal council meetings. However, they must pre-register with the County Council’s Democratic Services and provide a landline or mobile telephone number so they can join the virtual meeting.”
Somerset Moves into Virtual Reality
The Government granted councils temporary powers to hold public meetings virtually, using video or phone conferencing, during the coronavirus pandemic due to the practicalities of social distancing and saving lives. These new regulations apply to all local authorities in England and cover all categories of public meetings including annual meetings, cabinet and committee meetings.To pre-register or listen in to a forthcoming council meeting, contact Democratic Services team on 07790577336 / 07811 313837 or 07790577232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Other councils will soon be following suit. Sedgemoor District Council is slowly but surely training up it’s staff and councillors to use Skype technology and will be launching official meetings once they are confident of the technology and members ability to work it. Currently they have been holding information meetings including a Leaders Liaison Skype meeting every Wednesday at noon followed by a Councillors catch up at 2.30.
Bridgwater Town set for 18 June
Labour controlled Bridgwater Town Council have taken the bull by the horn and set the date for their first official ZOOM meeting as Thursday 18th June at 6pm. This will be a full Town Council meeting and the public will be able to submit questions and also watch the meeting being streamed on you tube and the Town Councils facebook page.
Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour ,Westover) says “We have been holding Executive Committee meetings weekly with the Town Clerk who currently has emergency powers plus a Full Council information session once a month. We have recently introduced a Leaders Liason catch up every Friday so that the Tory opposition are kept informed of developments. We have also agreed to relaunch our popular Community Forums as soon as possible but also online and this will give members of the public the same opportunity that we’ve always given them to engage with and help shape Town Council policy making. The first one will be on transport following a report by Councillors Glen Burrows, Mick Lerry and Dave Loveridge and will focus on the crucial role of transport in the recovery phase.”
Cllr Glen Burrows (Labour, Eastover) added “We should talk about localism and collaborative working. Transport is a major issue for climate change and health & well being and Bridgwater Town Council has NOT being included in the strategies coming out of the higher local authorities”.