Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Howard Sykes MBE has expressed his disappointment at the ruling by the High Court last week that councils will have to end virtual meetings after the May 6 local elections.
“It seems crazy to expect councillors, staff and the public to sit down together for meetings of up to four hours duration, when Members of Parliament can still virtually attend sessions and when we are still unable to sit indoors for one minute in a restaurant or pub,” stated councillor Sykes.
Councillor Sykes is one amongst many councillors of all parties who are concerned that restarting physical meetings so soon whilst there are still restrictions on indoor meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘out-of-step’ with the current reality and needlessly endangers public health.
After Local Government Minister Luke Hall MP wrote to all Councils to say that they must recommence face-to-face meetings from 6 May, the decision was challenged by Hertfordshire County Council, Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Services Officers, who brought the case to the High Court arguing that the Local Government Act 1972 should be interpreted to allow for virtual meetings.
Even the Minister for Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, told the Municipal Journal that his department was “supporting the action…as we believe there is a case to be heard”.
Commenting, Councillor Sykes said: “I am not saying they we should not resume public meetings, but this is out of step with other restrictions and shows the contradiction the rules are. It has proven entirely possible to take public questions and allow the public to view proceedings at virtual council meetings during the last year.”