Congleton: Plea for virtual meeting return after half Cheshire East committee left self-isolating

  Posted: 20.07.21 at 18:19 by Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter

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Cheshire East’s leader has renewed his call for virtual council meetings to be allowed after several members couldn’t attend a recent committee meeting because they were self-isolating.

Seven of the 15 members of the economy and growth committee were unable to attend Thursday’s meeting and had be substituted.

Cllr Mark Goldsmith (Wilmslow West and Chorley, Independent), who had to deputise for chair Nick Mannion because he had tested positive, made a point of telling online listeners: “Most of these absences are due to Covid-19 restrictions and not because of holidays or anything like that at all.”

The temporary regulation from last year which allowed decision-making at virtual meetings to take place because of the pandemic expired on May 6, meaning decisions can no longer be taken by councillors at online meetings.

Speaking this week, Cheshire East Council leader Sam Corcoran (Lab) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The impact of the government’s Covid strategy – or lack of a strategy – was felt at the Cheshire East Council committee meeting on Thursday when a number of councillors couldn’t attend because they had been told to self-isolate and the chair of the meeting was absent due to Covid. I was called to substitute at short notice.

“This is just an indication of the problems many industries and residents are facing with increasing numbers being asked to self-isolate and the government apparently encouraging people to meet indoors despite the rapidly increasing infection rates.”

He added: “Whilst the death rates may be low, the more infection there is, the more chance of a new variant emerging, particularly with so many people being partially vaccinated.

“Remote meetings worked well throughout the pandemic, but in May the government banned remote council meetings.

“This astonishing action was taken despite a study by the Local Government Association finding that 99.6 per cent of the 243 local authorities who responded believed the power for councils to hold remote meetings should be continued, citing benefits such as to ‘modern local democracy’ and ‘increased public interest and participation’ as examples of the long-term benefits.

“Remote meetings have been a great success, saving room hire costs, cutting travel time and reducing carbon emissions.

“Now with infection rates rising again and with indoor meetings being known to be high risk, the arguments that the government should allow remote council meetings are overwhelming.”

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