The Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government has urged principal councils in England to take part in the Government’s call for evidence on the use of remote meetings.
In a letter sent to council leaders in the aftermath of last week’s High Court ruling that the Local Government Act 1972 does not allow local authorities to hold meetings virtually, Luke Hall said the call for evidence, which closes on 17 June, would help the government “better evidence our next steps in this area”.
The Divisional Court Court (the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Dame Victoria Sharp, and Mr Justice Chamberlain) concluded that existing legislation specifies that council meetings must take place in person at a single, specified, geographical location and being “present” at such a meeting involves physical presence at that location.
The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 4 April 2020 and allowed for remote meetings, expire this week (7 May).
Luke Hall said he recognised that there might continue to be concerns about holding face-to-face meetings.
“Ultimately it is for local authorities to apply the Covid-19 guidance to ensure meetings take place safely, but the Government has published updated guidance to highlight ways in which councils can, if necessary, minimise the need for, or risks of, face-to-face meetings,” he noted.
The minister added that he was encouraged by the success of the vaccination programme and the progress through each of the steps of the Government’s Roadmap.
“By 17 May it is anticipated that a much greater range of indoor activity can resume and you should consider the extent to which meetings can operate on the same basis as other local institutions in your area, taking into account your individual circumstances and requirements,” he said.
Hall added: “I am grateful for the efforts that local authorities have made to allow remote meetings in their area and recognise that there has been a considerable investment of time, training and technology to enable these meetings to take place.”