Keep council meetings accessible: sign our open letter
Since 2021, we've been calling for local councils in England to be allowed to continue meeting remotely, as they did during the first year of the pandemic, with positive benefits for democratic participation, attendance, and transparency. With new research showing widespread support for remote meetings, we’re asking Councillors in England to sign our open letter to Government.
By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jun 7, 2022
We're sending an open letter to the Government urging them to allow councils to meet remotely, as part of our Women and Mums in politics campaign. Click here to sign it. We'll be releasing it in the next few months.
The Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Subject: Encouraging participation in our democracy: make council meetings accessible again
Dear Secretary of State,
We, the undersigned, are local councillors across England, and we are writing to ask that you once again give English local authorities the option to hold council meetings remotely in order to encourage greater democratic participation.
As you know, local authorities make decisions about issues of great importance to people across the nation, from schools, libraries, play parks and transport to domestic violence services and care for older people. Not to mention (who could forget?) the bins.
You will also know that from May 2020 to May 2021, councils were permitted to hold their meetings virtually. A range of benefits emerged from this, which included:
- Increased attendances at remote meetings by both councillors and the public
- The environmental benefits and significant cost savings of less travel, particularly in the large county authorities
- A better work/life balance for both councillors and council staff
- Improved equality of access to meetings for all and opening up opportunities for more people to stand for election as councillors
- More transparency and openness for the public to see council meetings
- An option to move meetings online when there are constraints due to bad weather such as snow or flooding.
It’s benefits like these which mean councillors strongly want to retain the option of remote meetings. In a recent survey of councillors by County Councils Network (CCN) and Zoom, 87% agreed that they would like their council to be able to adopt a hybrid set-up. Of the councillors who had caring responsibilities, nine in ten said a hybrid model would allow them to better balance their role with local government and the rest of their lives, whilst eight in ten without caring responsibilities said a hybrid model would provide a better councillor-life balance.
72% of those surveyed from the 36 local authorities CCN represents also said remote participation could attract more young people, ethnic minorities, and women to stand in local elections. As you will know, local councils face real challenges in finding a representative group of people to take up the role of councillor. According to the Councillors’ Census of 2018, councillors as a whole do not look like the country they serve. Just 36% of councillors are women; only 15% are under 45 (the median age in the UK is 40); and less than 4% are Black, Asian or from other minority ethnicity backgrounds. Councillors are more likely to have good health, and less likely to be in full-time or part-time employment, than their fellow citizens.
There is a strong desire for politicians to become more representative of the population they serve. 83% of Mumsnet users polled in February 2022 would like more diverse representation among political figures.
Every tool we need to enable free, unfettered access is available literally at our fingertips. And these tools, widely adopted for the first time, have had a huge impact on the ability of people from all backgrounds, whatever their other commitments, to contribute wherever and whenever their input is valuable.
Opening up the places where vital democratic decisions are made to a wider and more representative group of people is also crucial to levelling up within and between different areas, a key aim of your ministry. With councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already able to hold meetings remotely, there is no reason why English authorities should not be given the same powers permanently.
We urge you and the Government to urgently bring forward the necessary legislation to once again allow remote and hybrid council meetings to take place across England. We strongly feel that in the long run, this approach will encourage participation in our democracy.
[List coming soon]
If you are a councillor and would like to add your name as a signatory of this letter, please click here