Government’s dithering on virtual meetings leads to cancellation of major council meeting

December 15, 2021 1:41 PM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems

'Meetings in progress' sign on closed wooden door (John Tyson@unsplash.com)Against a backdrop of Surrey's increasing coronavirus infections and the spread of the Omicron variant, Surrey County Council has been pressured into postponing its pre-Christmas Full Council meeting until the New Year.

In person meetings are currently the only option for local authorities making formal decisions. The Government has so far resisted calls from all sides to grant councils the powers to be able to meet virtually, as they had been able to do during the pandemic up until 7th May 2021.

The Lib Dems had already urged Surrey County Council to lobby the Government on a permanent change to the legislation to allow virtual or hybrid council meetings back in March 2021. At that time the Council unanimously passed a Lib Dem motion to do precisely that and had the Government granted or even just extended these powers, the resulting flexibility would have allowed the December meeting to go ahead.

As well as being safer, holding meetings virtual saves the Council Taxpayer money. Last year, the County Council saved over £2 million on travel costs in the last year.

Will Forster, Group Leader of the Surrey Lib Dems, who had proposed the motion said:

"This is another instance of the Conservative Government failing to cope with this pandemic. Sadly, we will be living with this virus for a long time to come, so the use of virtual meetings is essential to ensure that local democracy and decision making can continue. The Government needs to urgently allow local authorities like Surrey County Council to hold meetings and make decisions virtually."

We had submitted a motion for the December meeting calling for a bigger and bolder approach to the implementation of 20mph zones across the county. This is an important campaigning issue for the Lib Dems; we believe there is growing support amongst communities and councillors for more 20mph zones so will be doing all we can to make sure that this motion has ample time at the next council meeting for its merits to be properly debated."