Return of in person council meetings “deeply disappointing” says Rotherham Council leader

The leader of Rotherham Council has branded the decision to return to in person council meetings before coronavirus restrictions are lifted “disrespectful”.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 3:00 pm

Councillor Chris Read said the council “will find a way through”, but said the decision to return to in-person meeting is “deeply disappointing”.

Updated guidance on the safe use of council buildings was published by the government yesterday ( March 25), confirming that emergency legislation to allow councils to meet virtually will not be extended.

Councillor Read said: “It is deeply disappointing that the government has announced that maintaining safe council meetings is not a priority, and in so doing has put local decision makers across the country into uncharted territory.

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Coun Chris Read.

“Over the last year councillors have adapted to working online and made sure that democratic accountability has continued through the pandemic.

“It took no time at all for the government to change the law to allow that to happen – and indeed to ban face to face meetings. But now it’s apparently too difficult for them to allow it to continue for a few weeks longer.

“As a result, councillors are being asked to choose between restarting large face to face meetings well before MPs themselves are prepared do so, or postponing the start of the municipal year, or temporarily handing over decision making to council officials.

“None of which are really acceptable. We’ll find a way through because that’s what we do every time the government sends a daft and disrespectful decision our way, but once again it’s a completely unnecessary distraction from the task of serving our communities.”

Councillor James Jamieson, chairman of the local government association, said:“This decision is extremely disappointing. The Government’s own roadmap out of lockdown states that indoor gatherings or events – organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation – cannot be organised until May 17 at the earliest.

“Yet councils will be unable to hold remote meetings from May 7. MPs will retain the right to participate remotely until at least June 21 but the powers-that-be in the House of Commons will not make time available to legislate for councillors to do the same.

“ We urge the Government to reverse this decision and not force councils to have to hold COVID-19 secure face-to-face council meetings until all restrictions are lifted.