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Move to end virtual Council meetings slammed by Council Leader

20 May 2021

The Leader of Richmond Council is criticising the Government’s move to end virtual council meetings in England and is calling for the decision to be reversed

When the COVID-19 pandemic begun, Richmond Council moved its meetings online due to restrictions on public meetings. The Government passed emergency legislation to give Councils the power to do business online. Despite the success of online meetings across the country, the Government decided not to extend the legislation beyond the local elections on 7 May 2021. 

Following Tuesday’s (18 May 2021) first in-person Council meeting attended by all Richmond Council Councillors and supporting staff, Cllr Gareth Roberts is warning the Government of the significant and unnecessary challenges presented by ending online and hybrid meetings.  

Cllr Gareth Roberts said: 

“The Government’s decision is ridiculous. It should have extended the legislation to allow online meetings to continue, but instead it has gone against the will of Councils across the country and created difficulty for everyone. 

“It’s a logistical nightmare to transform buildings into COVID-secure spaces, especially as Council meetings involve so many people. COVID-19 is far from over – the vaccination programme hasn’t reached those under the age of 35 yet and cases of variants of concern are rising. In-person Council meetings are a hugely unnecessary risk when our online meetings have worked so well since the beginning of the pandemic.  

"The decision is even more disappointing when we consider how the move online has allowed more members of the public to attend and get involved in council meetings. This has been a great boost to local democracy, and it is a great shame that the Government has failed to recognise this. 

“Nobody is calling for in person meetings to be scrapped altogether and I look forward to a time when we can all meet in person to conduct Council meetings with a minimum of fuss, but that time is not now. 

“I’m calling for the Government to recognise the mess it has created and to get on with extending the legislation so that online and hybrid meetings can continue.” 

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Up to: May 2021

Updated: 20 May 2021