The future of virtual council meetings
Over the course of the pandemic, councils have been at the forefront in mitigating the impact on communities and ensuring services run as usual as well as rapidly spinning up new ones to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and those shielding. Councils have been able to adapt swiftly, including ensuring vital council business were able to continue by adapting to virtual meetings at short notice last year.
Temporary change in regulations that has facilitated council meetings using video conferencing technology due to the pandemic lockdown is due to come to an end on 7 May. The government announced that it will not be extending the emergency legislation to enable the continuation of remote council meetings. On 25 March 2021 Luke Hall MP Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, wrote to all council leaders praising them for their extraordinary efforts during pandemic whilst confirming regulations on virtual council meetings introduced at start of the pandemic to end on the 7 May 2021. Guidance has been updated to help them operate safely and securely, including using existing powers to reduce the number of face-to-face meetings deemed necessary.
Informing the future of council meetings
Simultaneously the government also launched a call for evidence that seeks to understand the experience of local authorities in the whole of the UK regarding remote meetings, to inform any potential future legislation regarding their use beyond the pandemic.
Commenting on the government's decision, techUK CEO Julian David:
Over the course of the pandemic technology has enabled the delivery of democracy at a local level, allowing councillors to hold decision-making meetings while social distancing restrictions have been in place. Virtual council meetings helped reinvigorate local democracy, with increases in public participation and a renewed sense of place. While we understand the legislative pressures, it is disappointing to see that the emergency legislation will not be extended and there is no proposal for hybrid meetings. Local authorities have proven how quick and successful they can be in adopting new technologies. We believe this is a missed opportunity for both local digital democracy and for the future of local public services. Now is the time for government and councils, as we look to build back better, to be innovative and ambitious, utilising technology to stimulate local economies and renew local democracy.
Julian David is the CEO of techUK, the Digital Technology Trade Association.
Julian leads techUK's 60 strong team in representing over 800 member companies, comprising global and national champions and more than 500 SMEs. He is a member of the UK Government and Industry Cyber Growth Partnership, the Digital Economy Council and the Department of International Trade’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group. He is also the Vice President for National Trade Associations, on the Executive Board of DIGITALEUROPE, Vice President representing Europe on the board of WITSA the Worldwide IT Association, and a member of the board of the Health innovation Network, the South London Academic Health Science Network.
Georgina is techUK’s Head of Local Public Services.
Georgina works with suppliers that are active or looking to break into the market as well as with local public services to create the conditions for meaningful transformation. techUK regularly bring together local public services and supplier community to horizon scan and explore how the technologies of today and tomorrow can help solve some of the most pressing problems our communities face and improve outcomes for our people and places.
Prior to techUK, Georgina worked for a public policy events company where she managed the policy briefing division and was responsible for generating new ideas for events that would add value to the public sector. Georgina worked across a number of portfolios from education, criminal justice, and health but had a particular interest in public sector transformation and technology. Georgina also led on developing relationships across central and local government.
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