Posted: 06.04.21 at 11:41 by The Editor
South Kesteven district and county councillors are calling on central government to allow virtual meetings to continue.
The government recently announced that from May 7, council meetings will have to return to face-to-face, a move which has faced opposition from Lincolnshire councillors, as previously reported by Nub News.
Other councillors across South Kesteven contacted by Nub News have expressed similar views.
Deepings district councillor Ashley Baxter was more forthright, saying returning council meetings back to face-to-face was 'another mistake' in the handling of the Coronavirus crisis by the Conservative Government.
He told Nub News: "Herding Councillors back into a confined space with little opportunity for social distancing is counter-productive.
"It’s always nice to meet with people face-to-face but the pandemic has taught us that we can have meaningful meetings without being physically in the same room.
"For Councillors in the Deepings, any meeting in Grantham involves two hours travel time. I have no desire to travel to Grantham for meetings when it is possible to participate remotely; to do otherwise is a waste of time and petrol.”
Fellow Deepings district councillor and Market Deeping deputy mayor Virginia Moran said: "Personally - I am not happy to commence face to face meetings in May.
"Market Deeping Town Council would have a meeting of the full council due on 12th May and the size of the room is such that we almost sit shoulder to shoulder.
"With a mix of people, some of whom will have had both vaccines, some having only one and possibly a member who hasn't had any I am not comfortable to be there in person.
Coun Moran added: "We will be discussing this at our next meeting and I have already suggested that, if we have no alternative other than to meet in person, that we hire a much larger room such as the Community Centre or Eventus to enable us to distance. I believe there are other town Councillors who share this view."
Bourne district and county councillor Sue Woolley said: "I’m making these comments as a SKDC councillor although nearly all of it applies just as well to the County Council.
"I haven’t missed personal meetings. Technology is so simple these days and virtual meetings so easy that I think we must be very mindful of the cost and time saving this creates.
"As long as Covid guidance is adhered to then I expect the meetings to be safe. Quite whether the council chamber is big enough for us to be able to socially distance safely is another matter!
"As already mentioned, virtual meetings are quick and easy for most participants. It does require a certain amount of virtual meeting ‘etiquette’.
"I believe SKDC and the officers have adapted very quickly. As time has gone on, like most things, everyone has got quicker and slicker.
She added: "An important point for me is that this way of holding meetings makes it easier for members of the public to listen in without having to travel all the way to Grantham or Lincoln.
"I have two extra hours each day for council work by not having to travel to meetings."
Grantham district and county councillor Ray Wootten said: "As I held the first virtual committee meeting at Lincolnshire County Council, I feel that this has had several advantages for the council, councillors, staff and democracy.
"Meetings now have more Councillors in attendance and travelling time has been eliminated for most. The furthest County Councillor lives in Long Sutton over 50 miles from County Hall Lincoln and would entail a three hour return journey.
Coun Wootten continued: "Democracy has benefitted as members of the public can listen in and at District level asked questions without the need to also travel.
"Of course the downside for some is the infamous Handforth Parish Council meeting which demonstrated how not to hold a meeting but made a media star of Jackie Weaver."
"On the downside staff have missed the interaction with colleagues and felt isolated at times, however just by logging on we can instantly see if they are available to speak.
"Having attended a number of virtual Parish Council meetings they have all run smoothly .
He added: "My personal view is that it should be down to each individual council to decide if they wish to carry on. One thing is for certain our life will never be the same."
Grantham county councillor Richard Davies agrees, saying virtual meetings have been a "perfectly acceptable as a replacement for the vast majority of face to face meetings."
He also told Nub News: "For me the issue is less about personal safety, but I appreciate that is a big concern for many, but rather efficiency and practicality.
"I think the ability to meet with colleagues from across the county without travelling has led to increased attendance at meetings, as well as a more focussed and less verbose approach by attendees."
He continued: "An additional benefit is the attendance of members of the public is far easier as they can easily watch the meeting, something that isn't always possible with our physical meetings.
"I believe certain key meetings, such as full council, should be in person but see no reason why the majority of day to day meetings cannot continue to be carried out virtually (either in entirety or as a hybrid mix)."
A South Kesteven District Council spokesman told Nub News: “SKDC is considering various options regarding future arrangements for council meetings within a Covid-secure environment in order for its decision-making process to continue. The health and wellbeing of members, officers and the public remains a priority.”