Wakefield Council would struggle to hold 'hybrid' public meetings after local elections in May

Wakefield Council has suggested it would be unable to host "hybrid" public meetings, where councillors can attend both virtually and in person.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 3:23 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 3:24 pm

Local authorities have been making big decisions remotely and streaming their meetings online since the start of the pandemic, but legislation allowing that to take place is controversially coming to an end.

The government has said all council meetings taking place after May 7 should be held in person, despite the fact indoor gatherings will still be banned in England at that point.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, has criticised the move, as has Handforth Parish Council clerk Jackie Weaver, who became a viral sensation when footage of one her authority's chaotic meetings circulated online.

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In pre-Covid times, most Wakefield Council meetings were held here, at County Hall.

Ms Weaver has said it would be "dreadful" to end virtual meetings, citing the ease with which the public have been able to engage with local decision-making during the pandemic.

Councillors in Wakefield are understood to be divided over whether or not virtual meetings should continue, in the event of a government U-turn.

But while some local authorities are considering the prospect of allowing elected members to attend both online and in person, Wakefield Council has suggested this would be impossible unless meetings were held away from County Hall.

A report going before one of the council's scrutiny committees next week said: "There are particular challenges should members wish to pursue the future use of hybrid meetings where some members are located in the same room whilst others join the meeting remotely.

Most councils have had to use programmes such as Zoom to carry on with daily business.

"Given the age of the buildings where council meetings take place, the council does not have the infrastructure to support this type of meeting and to do so would require significant investment.

"In the short term, external facilities within the district would need to be explored."

The report added that the council "may also wish to consider whether the broadcasting of meetings should continue even when it is safe to resume face-to-face meetings."

Pre-Covid, only Wakefield's full council and Cabinet meetings were broadcast online.

But with more than 200 people tuning in to watch the authority's planning and highways meeting last November on YouTube, some have argued that streaming all public business has been good for democracy.

Local Democracy Reporting Service