Hertfordshire County Council, Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Services Officers lost their High Court bid to hold online and hybrid meetings beyond 7 May.
The High Court judgement was clear that primary legislation is needed to allow councils to use technology to hold meetings.
Councils had been holding their meetings remotely largely (but not always) smoothly, for the past year as part of temporary provisions.
In a latter to Council Leaders, Luke Hall, Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, said that he recognised that there had been a considerable investment of time, training and technology to enable remote meetings to take place, and encouraged councils to provide feedback on their use of remote meetings as the Government considers whether to bring in fresh legislation.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCLG) has issued a call for evidence which “seeks to understand the experience of local authorities in the whole of the UK regarding remote meetings”. It will run until 17 June 2021.
“It is very disappointing that this last avenue to allow councils to hold online and hybrid meetings whilst COVID-19 restrictions are still in force has not been successful,” said Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, responding to the judgement in the High Court. “Councils by law, have to hold annual meetings within 21 days following local elections, so many will now have to use very large external venues to allow all members of the council to meet in person.”
A recent LGA survey of 243 English councils revealed that 83 per cent said they would be very likely or fairly likely to conduct meetings online or as a hybrid meeting once the coronavirus emergency was over if they had the power.
Jamieson argued that the current flexibility has been paramount in allowing access for both councillors and the public into council meetings and that “many councils have, in fact, seen significantly increased participation by the public in meetings where important decisions are made about planning, housing and the provision of local services.”
James is the Editor of Government Transformation magazine, and has been covering digital government and public sector reform for 20 years. He also oversees the development of the UK's biggest network of public sector transformation conferences.