MNHQ here: keep council meetings accessible!

(85 Posts)

MNHQ have commented on this thread.

RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 04-May-21 13:37:47

Hello

Apologies for the determinedly unglamorous thread title - we've gathered you here today to talk about council meetings!

As some of you will know, during the pandemic local authorities (councils) were given permission to hold their meetings online. This not only gave the nation the chance to enjoy the proceedings of Handforth Parish Council: it also meant that everyone who otherwise found in-person attendance difficult - perhaps because they had mobility or health issues, or because they had caring responsibilities or young children - could take part (as a councillor) or watch (as a local voter) with no barriers.

Last week councils were told that these online or hybrid meetings will have to stop almost immediately, and that everyone has to return to holding meetings in person.

We think this is a bad move, and we've been busily collecting signatures from councillors who are also parents to add to our open letter to the relevant government minister, Robert Jenrick.

If you're a councillor who's also a parent - or you know someone who is - we'd love to add your name. You can co-sign by adding your name to this document.

If you're not a parent who's a councillor BUT you agree with us anyway please help by sharing our social posts (eg here on Twitter or here on Facebook) to help us get as many signatures as possible.

And if you need any more persuasion - Jackie Weaver agrees with us grin

Thanks
MNHQ

OP’s posts: |
picklemewalnuts Tue 04-May-21 14:20:44

I agree, I think it's really important. I have Parish Council connections. Virtual meetings allow disabled people greater access as well. Many more people can attend if they don't have to leave the house on cold dark nights!

In my area, I favour alternating meetings.

I also find it interesting that evening meetings are seen as essential to include working people, though they also exclude some.

SkedaddIe Tue 04-May-21 14:46:37

100% agree

NicolaDunsire Tue 04-May-21 14:47:54

I agree it’s really important although my parish council has been holding email meetings closed to the public so i am a bit annoyed & would like them dragged into the light!

picklemewalnuts Tue 04-May-21 14:58:20

They shouldn't, @NicolaDunsire . Report them to the next layer up.

LizzieMacQueen Tue 04-May-21 15:24:16

It's an interesting proposal but I know, for me, I'm much more likely to speak up & add to the conversation if I'm actually in the room. Sitting at home on my PC, not so much.

JemimaMuddledUp Tue 04-May-21 15:38:53

In Wales, we have been advised to continue with virtual meetings for the forseeable future.

I completely agree that virtual meetings are more accessible to a lot of people, however in rural Wales we also have the problem that a lot of people's home internet connection isn't good enough for them to be able to take part. Coupled with the fact that councillors are often older (I'm the youngest on our council by a long stretch) and lack the tech skills to be confident using Zoom etc, we are finding that we are at risk of losing some really good experienced councillors if we aren't able to return to face to face meetings soon.

I guess there are problems with either way.

picklemewalnuts Tue 04-May-21 15:43:28

My argument would be that councils should be able to choose according to their own situation. At the moment, they can't.

RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 04-May-21 16:00:24

Hello - yes the argument lots of councils and councillors have been making is that they should have the option to keep online or hybrid meetings (hybrid meetings being a combo of both online and in-person). At the moment, both online and hybrid meetings will be explicitly disallowed after the end of this week, unless the government changes the law.

OP’s posts: |
voovayclickwot Tue 04-May-21 16:04:17

Very suspicious that they want to stop online meetings immediately. What are they hoping to hide/avoid?!

picklemewalnuts Tue 04-May-21 16:23:14

It's the legal situation! It would take a change in primary legislation to allow it, and obviously that's not a five minute fix.

These things are bound in law which isn't entirely fit for purpose- agendas have to be published in a notice board five days ahead of a meeting (and now also on the website) etc.
The law is about maximising transparency, but occasionally makes it harder.

Icanflyhigh Tue 04-May-21 16:35:08

Speaking as a local clerk for several small parishes this is a real difficulty being faced across England.

It is fairly traditional for councillors to be elder residents of their parish/Town Council and as we all know they are more than likely to have received both of their vaccinations before they attend a face to face meeting. For the Clerk/RFO, it is much less likely.

The remote meetings have been fantastic, if a little frustrating at times, but on the whole, very few core functions have been missed and if anything, more work has been completed because there has been no travelling between meetings etc.

I would support allowing remote meetings to continue, or an alternation of online Vs face to face. I'm not certain about hybrid meetings as true hybrid would mean fairly high expenditure which comes out of the public purse - a reliable and stable Internet connection in a public place, which many small rural village halls and church halls etc just don't have.

Interested in reading other views on this though....

NicolaDunsire Tue 04-May-21 16:36:57

Icanflyhigh do you know who I can raise concerns about my parish council to? As I said up thread mine are doing email meetings, & don’t publish agenda or minutes in advance.

aliloandabanana Tue 04-May-21 16:42:44

I'm concerned about the point relating to councillors who are also parents - I know we've got used to working from home whilst looking after children, but I would expect councillors to be able to focus solely on the matters being discussed during meetings where important decisions are being taken and members of the public may also be present.

I don't know what the solution is to involving more young people, carers and parents but I do think there's a case to be made for council meetings being too important to be something you try to join in with whilst keeping half an eye on young children or being available if you are a carer. Large amounts of public money are being spent and decisions affecting people's lives are being made and those involved should be fully focused on the discussions.

PastMyBestBeforeDate Tue 04-May-21 16:45:46

@Icanflyhigh I'm on medication that makes me more vulnerable to infections. Despite having both vaccinations I'm still told to avoid places like supermarkets. I'm not that unusual. The one good thing about the pandemic has been the opening up of so many things to online access. As things go back offline, we go back to being shut out of things like support groups, meetings, lectures etc.

aliloandabanana Tue 04-May-21 16:51:07

I think there may be a misunderstanding of public participation in council meetings as well. With the exception of parish council meetings, most are recorded and available online soon after the event. As a member of the public, you can't just have your say randomly during discussions, there will be specific opportunities to do this. I agree that perhaps you shouldn't have to attend to raise an issue/make a point, but broadcasting via Zoom/Teams isn't necessarily the answer and it won't mean that we can all turn up and make comments every five minutes!

Icanflyhigh Tue 04-May-21 16:51:19

NicolaDunsire

Icanflyhigh do you know who I can raise concerns about my parish council to? As I said up thread mine are doing email meetings, & don’t publish agenda or minutes in advance.


Your local Association of Local Councils, or your district/Borough or County organisation will have a procedure to follow if things are not being done correctly.
You can also contact NALC which is national association of local councils.
Have you checked that minutes and agendas are not being put on the website in lieu of the parish noticeboards?
Website is deemed public information now and legislation allows for publication of docs on websites only now - unfortunately noticeboards are very underused these days.
To be clear, an agenda must be issued with 3 clear days notice which doesn't include the day of posting or the day of the meeting, to be lawful. For example, a meeting to be held on Friday,must have the agenda posted publicly on Monday to be lawful.

Icanflyhigh Tue 04-May-21 16:55:44

PastMyBestBeforeDate

*@Icanflyhigh* I'm on medication that makes me more vulnerable to infections. Despite having both vaccinations I'm still told to avoid places like supermarkets. I'm not that unusual. The one good thing about the pandemic has been the opening up of so many things to online access. As things go back offline, we go back to being shut out of things like support groups, meetings, lectures etc.


You're certainly not on your own there, and I know one or two of my elderly councillors with underlying health issues are rightly concerned about attending a face to meeting with the general public allowed.
The meeting has to admit members of public, and from 17th May that is up to half capacity of the room in which you are meeting.
If there are too many members of public attend, the meeting has to be abandoned, equally, if there are too few councillors present for the meeting to be quorate, it has to be abandoned.
Online certainly does make things more accessible for some, but I also know in my rural parishes, online meetings have made them inaccesible to many older residents who haven't got the technology. It's swings and roundabouts, so maybe hybrid would be a better option.

Icanflyhigh Tue 04-May-21 17:00:27

aliloandabanana

I think there may be a misunderstanding of public participation in council meetings as well. With the exception of parish council meetings, most are recorded and available online soon after the event. As a member of the public, you can't just have your say randomly during discussions, there will be specific opportunities to do this. I agree that perhaps you shouldn't have to attend to raise an issue/make a point, but broadcasting via Zoom/Teams isn't necessarily the answer and it won't mean that we can all turn up and make comments every five minutes!


This is certainly a valid point - many members of public think they can "chip in" when they like, and that is absolutely not the case. Aside from a specific agenda item for public participation which is usually 3 mins per person speaking or a maximum of 15 mins, there is no opportunity for MOPs to speak at all, and those who insist on doing so find themselves muted, and in some instances removed from the meeting room and placed in the waiting room until they learn they cannot speak.
I record all of my meetings but only for the purpose of producing accurate minutes, the recordings are deleted as soon as draft minutes are prepared. That said, anyone can record a meeting and post it to wherever should they wish to and some councils do stream live to Facebook etc and upload their meetings to YouTube.

picklemewalnuts Tue 04-May-21 17:07:38

Nicola, you can report to the next tier of government up. So you can report Parish to Borough/District (Tertiary areas) or County/City.

Your Borough/District/County Councillor should also help you direct your concerns.

murbblurb Tue 04-May-21 17:22:17

Councils were informed of this possibility some time ago and there was a legal challenge to the ruling. High court dismissed it last week. A change in primary legislation is needed and apparently the government is too busy.

Make of that what you will.

Not sure why one needs to be a councillor or a parent to join this letter. As I'm neither, I will not be doing so.

Muffinbutton Tue 04-May-21 17:36:32

MNHQ I'm afraid this is too late in the day. It wasn't announced last week that they had to stop, the 7th May deadline has been known about for quite some time.

There was a challenge in court last week that was rejected, that's probably what you're referring to.

From May 7th until 21st June (when covid rules are relaxed) there's no ability to hold parish council meetings, unless of course there's fewer than 6 and you can meet outside!

It is an absolute disgrace that the law cannot be changed to match the covid rules, but many parishes have brought forward their annual meetings accordingly as these need to be held in May.

My experience of hybrid meetings hasn't been great. Those in the room have a stronger 'voice' and drown out the ones online.

NicolaDunsire Tue 04-May-21 17:52:55

Icanflyhigh nothing has gone on the website since 2018! I think the website was run by a councillor who left under a cloud after a planning row...

Thanks picklemewalnuts

picklemewalnuts Tue 04-May-21 18:05:49

We postponed our meeting to May 18th, when we can meet indoors 2m apart. Residents can attend equally well distanced. All Cllrs. and the clerk will have had at least one vaccination.

PastMyBestBeforeDate Tue 04-May-21 18:17:52

@Icanflyhigh yes I think hybrid would be good or at least when a 'hot' topic is up at the Parish Council.

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