Cheshire East Votes to Support Virtual Meetings Petition

Cheshire East Council has voted to support a national petition calling on the government to allow local councils to decide for themselves whether to meet remotely.

The decision follows a notice of motion brought to the meeting of full council on 24 February by the leader of the council, Councillor Sam Corcoran, and deputy leader Councillor Craig Browne.

By law, councils must meet face to face to make formal decisions. However, during the initial Covid-19 lockdown, the government introduced emergency legislation that allowed councils and their committees to meet using ‘virtual’ meeting technology, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, for decision-making meetings.

This relaxation of the rules was reversed in April 2021, when the temporary regulations expired.

The Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) and Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) petition calls on government ‘to create Parliamentary time to agree a change in the law to allow councils in England to meet remotely if they wish’.

Councillor Sam Corcoran, leader Cheshire East Council

Cllr Corcoran said: “Councils should be allowed the flexibility to choose to meet remotely. 

“The rule change during the first year of the pandemic allowed us continue to operate effectively and to make decisions. It also gave us first-hand experience of the advantages and disadvantages of meeting remotely.

“While there are both pros and cons, there are certainly a number of advantages for the general public, for councillors and for officers. It is easier for residents to participate in meetings remotely – we saw more members of the public ‘attending’ virtual meetings in 2020/21 than we would typically see at physical meetings.

“Travel time for councillors, officers and members of the press and public was reduced – as was the carbon footprint and emissions resulting from travel.

“We think that the decision about how to meet can and should be taken locally not by Westminster.”

Cllr Browne said: “This is not about making all council and committee meetings remote, and it is not just about the Covid pandemic. This is about giving local councils, like ours, the flexibility to decide for themselves if and when a remote meeting may be appropriate. 

“Remote meetings can increase transparency and participation in local democracy, while reducing carbon footprint and potentially reducing costs significantly. Increased flexibility around meetings may also attract a wider, more diverse range of candidates to stand for council in future.”

The council will now write to the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, calling on the government to change the law to allow councils the flexibility to hold such meetings, when they deem appropriate, within agreed rules and procedures.