Following the High Court Judgment on remote meetings, without further legislation there are no definitive answers and NALC is taking the approach of advising the safest course for local councils taking into account both Covid laws and local government law.
The current position is unsatisfactory and will cause huge problems for many of the 10,000 local councils in England, which the sector will address in its usual professional way and in the best interests of residents.
It is clear that the legal position is that local councils need to meet face-to-face, rather than remotely, and be open to attendance in person from the public.
As we have advised previously in our guidance on preparing for the possible return to face-to-face meetings, local councils should take steps to address this issue through measures such as delegation to clerks, deferring controversial decisions or holding meetings later in the year, after the 21 June roadmap date.
Any face-to-face meeting should be held in line with restrictions and public health advice in place at that time. So, in practical terms, local councils will have no choice but to control the numbers of people physically in the meeting room at any one time in order to comply with the Government’s Covid restrictions.
We are currently advising local councils not to meet before 17 May because of Covid regulations and the roadmap.
When calling a meeting, local councils must conduct a risk assessment of any available venue and you can find details of how to in the Managing Facilities and Public Spaces section.
In light of the risk assessment it is advised to set out in the notice of the meeting and the agenda, the arrangements for safely meeting (for example social distancing, wearing of masks and hand sanitising and other measures) and the number of the public that can be accommodated.
If there is a large influx of the public for a meeting which exceeds the room’s safe capacity as stated on the agenda, then the permitted number of attendees should not be exceeded. Local councils should manage as they would usually any disruptive behaviour or health and safety risks.
If the assessment is that the room cannot hold a safety meeting and no other venue is available or there is no outside space then, the local council will need to take appropriate mitigating actions including delaying meetings until after 21 June.
The meeting notice should also set out any arrangements for live streaming and making the meeting available for the public to observe proceedings and encourage the public to watch remotely.
Councils may also want to encourage members of the public to make written representations on issues rather than attending in person.
Further reading here: