A year since a government call for evidence on remote meetings closed, the LGA has called for virtual and hybrid council meetings to be an integral part of the future of local democracy in England.
During the national lockdown in spring 2020, emergency regulations allowed councils to carry out meetings remotely, to ensure critical decisions were made quickly and democratically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This proved successful, with councils highlighting an increase in participation from elected members and residents.
The Welsh Government legislated to make these changes permanent in 2021, but in England councils were forced to return to in-person meetings.
An LGA council survey, conducted before the emergence of the Omicron variant last year, found that returning exclusively to in-person meetings had resulted in 72 per cent of councils seeing a drop in councillor attendance at statutory meetings and 73 per cent a drop in public attendance.
Ministers launched a call for evidence into remote meetings, which closed on 17 June 2021, but have failed to release the results or set out a plan to take the issue forward – leaving English councils uncertain and unable to plan effectively for the future, despite much of their workforce adapting successfully to virtual and hybrid working patterns.
Flexibility is also vital in attracting a wider range of people to stand as candidates, with recent research finding that 72 per cent of councillors surveyed felt a hybrid model could attract more ethnic minority and younger people and women to stand in local elections.
Virtual and hybrid meetings also support the attendance of councillors with caring responsibilities, disabilities, or chronic illnesses.
Cllr James Jamieson, LGA Chairman, said: “This issue is a priority for councils up and down the country.
“The pandemic proved that using virtual meeting options can help councils work more effectively and efficiently, and can in fact increase engagement from both councillors and residents, which is a vital part of local democracy.
“We urge the Government to act quickly to empower local authorities to make the most suitable choice for their organisation and communities and bring them in step with their residents’ expectations of organisations that provide local services in the 21st century.”