A parish council that wrote to the local MP expressing its hopes that the Government would extend legislation so that virtual meetings could continue is planning alternative arrangements for its most important meeting of the year, before councillors may have to gather face-to-face once more.
The Act governing virtual meetings, introduced after the first lockdown and hailed a success by many not least as more people could watch local democracy in action from their living room sofas, comes to an end on 7th May. The Government chose not to extend the legislation.
As a result Holmes Chapel Parish Council has recommended that it moves its most important meeting, the full council annual meeting, which it is legally obliged to hold, from 27th May to 6th May so it can still be held via Zoom.
The plans will be discussed at a parish council meeting – via Zoom – tonight (Thursday) at 7pm.
A report to councillors mentions how it is hoped all covid restrictions will be lifted on 21st June and the community centre opened once more for room hire and use.
The parish council’s Zoom account expires on 30th April and will cost £11.90 to renew for another year or £11.99 per month.
If the parish council goes back to a basic account, the Zoom meetings need to be restarted after 40 minutes.
Clerk Tina Cartlidge will write a full risk assessment for a return to face-to-face meetings, which will be bought to the next Strategy and Finance meeting this month for subsequent approval at the May meeting of the full council.
At tonight’s meeting it will be recommended that the parish council will hold the annual parish meeting on 6th May at 6pm until 7.30pm via Zoom. This will be followed by the full council annual meeting at 8pm. Other meetings would be moved to accommodate this.
It is further recommended that the parish council will wait for future guidance on the holding of physical meetings based on covid restrictions
Another recommendation is that the parish council responds to the Government consultation emphasising the positive nature of remote meetings, and that the parish council decides to renew the Zoom subscription for another year.
The council is also recommended to write to Holmes Chapel’s MP Fiona Bruce expressing its disappointment at the legislation not being extended.
It sent a letter to Mrs Bruce in February in support of extending the Act relating to virtual meetings.
In response, Mrs Bruce said: “I recognise the important and tireless efforts undertaken by parish councils during one of the most difficult times in recent history.
Their crucial contribution to everyday life in our communities, especially when it comes to helping those most vulnerable, has certainly not gone unnoticed by the many people who have received support.
“The Government is aware of the considerable interest from local authorities including parish councils to continue with the flexibility of virtual meetings.
“As you will know the regulations under which temporary flexibility was made will expire on 7th May, 2021.
“The Government is also aware of the difficulties going forward around social distancing and ensuring councillors, officers and residents are protected and kept safe. While further extension would require primary legislation, these factors will be carefully considered by Government.”