Call for online council meetings in England to be made legal

16 April 2021

BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, has called on the Government to make online council meetings legal, after the lockdown. At present, the right to hold council meetings online is granted temporarily, under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Local authorities in Scotland already had the power to meet remotely prior to the pandemic. The Welsh Government has since made legal provision for Welsh local authorities to meet remotely.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the suggestion has been backed by Jackie Weaver who became briefly famous when her handling of a combative meeting of Handforth Parish Council, via Zoom, went viral.

Ms Weaver, of Cheshire Association of Local Councils, said: “The continuation of virtual council meetings is essential for enhancing local democracy which is the foundation of our society.”

She mentioned a great deal of feedback from local councils about the additional benefits of remote meetings including the environmental and cost benefits of reduced travel, increased participation from local residents and more accessibility.

Remote meetings also have the potential to attract more diverse local council members, Ms Weaver said.

BCS President, John Higgins, argues that digital access to local democracy during the pandemic has transformed the public’s ability to hold elected officials to account and to call out inappropriate behaviour.

“Local authorities have risen to the challenge of ensuring council business continues by conducting meetings remotely and, with the right standards and security measures in place, online or hybrid meetings are far more accessible for elected members, local residents and the media,” he said.