GBC – Democratic Response to Coronavirus
Guildford Borough Council have issued the following press release re its response to the Coronavirus;-
We are all playing our part in responding to changes brought about by the Coronavirus. While the Council prioritises critical services in order to serve the needs of its residents and more vulnerable at risk groups, it is also necessary to ensure that we are able to continue making decisions on key projects, policies, and services, as well as planning applications and in compliance with the law. The new Coronavirus Act 2020 gives the Secretary of State powers to make regulations about the conduct of local authority meetings, and these are widely expected to include the capacity for virtual meetings.
Part of the Council’s recent transformation programme included substantial investment in ICT equipment, which has been pivotal in enabling the organisation to quickly respond to the changes in services and the way it conducts its day to day work.
The next full Council meeting, which was scheduled for 7 April has been postponed until 5 May. In the meantime, the licensing sub-committee will go ahead as planned on 1 April, as a virtual meeting. Licensing sub-committees are subject to different governing laws already, so this can take place with regard to current regulations and timescales and will be the first ‘virtual’ committee meeting for the council.
Leader of the Council, Cllr Caroline Reeves said “I am proud to lead such a resilient and forward-thinking Council. Although the Government’s exact plans for exercising these regulation-making powers, and the timescales in which they will be implemented are not yet known, we are expecting them to permit virtual meetings without the need for councillors to assemble in the Council Chamber. They are likely to suspend the need to hold an annual meeting. Our ICT team have already started preparations for holding virtual meetings, including putting together guidance for councillors as it is a learning curve for some of us. We are also investigating how the public will be able to view the virtual meetings and participate in them.”
Lead Councillor for Waste, Licensing, and Parking, Cllr David Goodwin said “I am pleased that we are able to hold our first virtual meeting on 1 April, a meeting of the Licensing Sub-Committee. We are able to do this in advance of the regulations because the law governing the conduct of licensing hearings is different to the law governing the conduct of all other local authority meetings.”
After this, which could be considered a trial virtual meeting, subject to the regulations being in place, a virtual Executive meeting will be held on 21 April 2020 and a virtual Planning Committee meeting will be held on 22 April 2020.