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Should Councils be allowed to continue with Electronic / Virtual Meetings in Perpuitiy?

+1 vote

Anecdotally numerous Parish & Town Councils locally have seen record levels of engagement with members of the public participating in public Q&A session and observing regularly meetings from the comfort and safety of their own home.  County & District representatives have been able to "dial in" and attend said councils meetings virtually which has seen dramatic increase in attendance in many cases often for a variety of reasons not least diary clashes meaning they simply could not get back in time digital meetings made this possible.  From my perspective its thrown a spotlight on a tier of local government that had in my mind for too long been able to simply hide themselves within poorly lit village halls should they wish.  Seen people coming forward wanting to get involved like never before.  Seen people asking difficult questions and indeed coming forward with very welcome solutions to problems.    My personal view has only hardened that virtual meetings should become firmly part of local government for myriad of different reasons (from climate change benefits, enhanced community engagement, to simply cost savings and not been sat in freezing damp community hall to name just a few)   

  1. How are virtually meetings working locally in your respective areas?
  2. What problems have you encountered to-date with virtual meetings?
  3. Do you think that councils should be allowed to continue with some Electronic / Virtual Meetings in Perpuitiy in post pandemic?

asked by (1.7k points)

4 Answers

0 votes
It's interesting to hear your experiences. Mine have been the opposite. Across my four councils, I would have expected around a hundred public attendances since March. I've seen six. Some councillors have been unable to participate, or have chosen not to. Our district and county councillors come to all of our meetings anyway, so it has made no difference to them. The conduct of my councillors during virtual meetings has been atrocious, as they don't see it as a formal meeting. I'm going to suggest a Section 137 donation to Alcoholics Anonymous, then tell members to declare an interest before voting! I've had a chairman watching football on TV whilst chairing a meeting. Members have invited their family to join them for the meetings. Others have got up and left the room without any explanation. Gossiping about neighbours. Telling stories completely unrelated to the work of the council. You name it, I've seen it!

As soon as we were able, we reverted to face-to-face meetings, although we've had to go back online for the current lockdown.

Virtual meetings are a godsend for planning committee meetings, where we rarely have more than one application to consider, so the meetings last between five and ten minutes on average. Doing that from the comfort of my armchair has been beneficial.

I'm sure it's worked well for some, but not where I come from.
answered by (22.5k points)
Eek sounds like you really have had experiences at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Was aware of some fairly high profile examples where it had gone horribly wrong further a field (driving a HGV at some considerable speed whilst dialling in to a meeting, colourful language from a now former Chair at a council elsewhere and various states of undress.  I did wonder whether they were one offs or not.  I think locally the fact for the first time in years people are watching (and many recording and indeed live streaming it to the various village pages/groups/social media) it certainly focussed the minds.  Our worst culprits for the type of behaviour you alluded to suddenly now either completely silent or very much on there best behaviour.  Indeed quite a lot of the councils have officially streamed meetings via youtube/facebook etc locally
0 votes
We have seen both sides of the spectrum. Some of our public have been diabolical, shouting at their children on camera, continually interrupting. I can see positive moves going forward but it needs to be carefully choreographed
answered by (3.1k points)
On a number of the platforms there is an option for the "host" to mute individuals (preventing them from unmuting themselves).  So from our perspective been easier to prevent interruptions to the formal session (as opposed to having to the individual screaming abuse during actual meeting making all kinds of threats in a community hall..)
0 votes
Our Council has managed well with virtual meetings. They were a few problems to start with, such as lots of background noise and councillors interrupting others. Impossible to follow a meeting with more than one person speaking. I addressed this by asking everyone to mute themselves and then raise their hand when they want to speak and I call on them when it's their turn. We've now settled into this routine very well and meetings go well. All of our members are able to use our platform. (StarLeaf).

Having said that, although I would like to have virtual meetings remain as allowed, I do like the face to face meetings and look forward to them resuming. Even if it's just the full monthly one.
answered by (430 points)
Our experience has been that it does make better use of the Parish Clerk’s time although councillors miss the social chat prior to the meeting.
0 votes
My experience has been totally the opposite... same faces attending from a councillor perspective, nil attendance by the public. I have found that the organisation of the meetings hasn't improved, in fact got worse as the TC has decided that it is the opportunity not to have to send out papers in the post but email them (some papers have been emailed 30 minutes before the start of the meeting!) We had to cancel a meeting because after numerous requests we had no financial information for a Committee meeting, the Chair opened the meeting and after 5 minutes a motion was raised to cancel!!

The behaviours element is abysmal - no control by the Chair and nil engagement from the TC who continues to struggle with the virtual meeting concept.

I for one will be moving for 'face to face' meetings as soon as this is allowed - I'm hoping this is December but have a feeling this will be given a wide-berth by out TC and Chair.)
answered by (200 points)

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