This is how Sheffield Council meetings could change in wake of stricter measures brought in to tackle coronavirus

Talks are underway about council meetings at Sheffield Town Hall now stricter measures have been brought in to tackle coronavirus.

Monday, 16th March 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th March 2020, 4:07 pm

In a briefing held on Monday, March 16 Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked members of the public to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres and to work from home if possible in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Avoiding unnecessary social contact was particularly important for the over 70s and pregnant women, said Mr Johnson.

The local elections have already been postponed to 2021 and local government minister Robert Jenrick has now announced some new changes to how councils operate.

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Talks are underway about how council meetings will continue

Ofsted inspections will be deferred while Freedom of Information requests will be abandoned or have the time limit to respond extended.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils nationwide, is asking the government to look at the flexibility and accessibility of council meetings.

In Sheffield, the majority of meetings are webcast and one option would be to use video conferencing instead of face to face meetings.

But the details are unclear - would this depend on individual councillors having the technology at home? And would members of the public be able to view the meetings?

The planning board - which often attracts the most members of the public and deals with the most controversial decisions - is the one meeting at Sheffield which is not webcast.

Liberal Democrat Leader Shaffaq Mohammed has requested a meeting with chief executive Charlie Adan to ask that April's full council is cancelled.

There are legal issues around how council decisions are made. It is currently governed by each council’s constitution and standing orders and each council’s decision-making processes will be different.

But current legislation means that councillors can only engage and vote at any meeting if they are there in person.

The LGA says it has already registered the issue of councillors unable to participate in meetings unless they are present.

There are certain issues, such as setting the budget, that can only be decided by full council. Other decisions could be delegated to officers or the Cabinet.

The government says it will consider bringing forward legislation to allow committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period.