At the outset of the Coronavirus pandemic the council took the exceptional step of cancelling its formal committee meetings until at least 11th May 2020. This decision was not taken lightly and was in the interests of public safety. Subsequent guidance from the Government on social distancing, and the instructions for people to stay safe in their homes has reinforced the need for this decision.
We are keen to ensure that we continue to reflect the need for our democratic processes to continue, and to ensure there is openness and transparency in our decision making. We recognise it is essential to re-introduce collective decision making by Councillors in Committee as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so.
Until very recently the local authority was not permitted to hold remote meetings due to a requirement that councillors voting had to be present. Legislation has now been passed that allows us to hold remote meetings and we are working to ensure that a robust and safe way of holding such meetings is up and running as soon as possible. This will include finding the best way to ensure public access to the meetings. Testing of potential solutions will commence shortly and it is hoped that a modified schedule of meetings will be able to resume, remotely, in May.
Priority will be given in the first instance to meetings of Full Council, regulatory meetings determining planning and licensing applications, and committees authorised to conduct major high priority strategic business. We will publish a modified schedule of meetings as soon as possible, so please check the listings here for updated details from mid-April.
In the meantime, the council is using the provisions in its constitution to ensure decision making can continue. This is especially important when responding to an emergency due to the speed at which some decisions are required to be made. Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, and the need to be at the very forefront in our responses, it is likely that some decisions will continue to need to be made under the urgency provisions even once remote committee meetings are up and running.
Any non-urgent business that would usually be dealt with by one of our committees has been postponed until we are able to hold a virtual committee meeting. Only urgent decisions that cannot wait for resumption of business are being taken.
Decisions that cannot wait for the implementation of virtual Committee meetings are being taken by the Chief Executive or the Executive Directors using the measures available to us in the constitution. If you would like to take a look at those measures you will find them at page 31 here.
In order to ensure democratic oversight is retained, and to maximise transparency and accountability of the decisions being taken, we have broadened the requirements of our constitution to include additional consultation with opposition Councillors.
Before taking any decision using the urgency powers, the Chief Executive or Executive Directors will consult with the Chair or Co-Chairs of the relevant Committee, the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the Opposition.
If there is sufficient time to do so, they will also consult with all other Councillors who sit on the relevant Committee, give public notice of the proposed decision on the Council's Forward Plan, and publish a report setting out their proposals on the Council's website.
For every decision made details will be published on the Council's website and can be found on these pages. You can expect to see a statement on the consultation that has taken place and details of the decision itself.
Significant decisions that have been taken by the Chief Executive and Executive Decisions under their usual day to day powers will continue to be published on the website in the normal way.
The detailed arrangements can be viewed here.