Chichester District Council prepares for end to virtual meetings

Safety will be the key word for Chichester District Council after a High Court ruling signalled the end of online meetings from May 7.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 1:55 pm

When the pandemic hit, the government introduced temporary legislation to allow local authority meetings to be held online, in line with social distancing regulations.

But the news that this cannot carry on without a change in the law, means councils all over the country will have to find ways to continue their meetings in public while also keeping councillors, staff and the public safe.

Some councils have had to find larger venues in which to hold those meetings and, while Chichester District Council did explore that option, it was decided that the committee rooms at East Pallant House would be suitable.

East Pallant House, Chichester. Pic Steve Robards SR2007221 SUS-200722-111704001

A spokesman said: “The safety of our staff, councillors and visitors is our top priority and so we have introduced lots of additional measures to make our committee meeting spaces Covid secure.

“This includes additional spacing; screens between tables; and a change to the layout of the room, amongst other things.”

For years, the council has audiocast its meetings and this will carry on once face-to-face meetings return.

But there’s something more engaging about a webcast – and many councils have bemoaned the decision not to extend the legislation, especially as more people had been logging on to watch the goings-on.

The spokesman said: “During the pandemic, remote meetings have offered numerous benefits.

“They have enabled democratic decision-making and transparency for the public; while also enabling councillors, staff and other contributors to participate safely from home.

“We have seen an increase in the amount of people viewing meetings online and there are varying levels of interest, depending on the topics being discussed at each meeting.”

One thing which will be looked into is the use of hybrid meetings – such as those beamed from the House of Commons – where some attendees log on from elsewhere.

The spokesman said: “Taking this approach would require significant investment in camera and sound equipment.

“A governance review will look at this and consider if the investment would offer best value moving forward.”