Virtual Arun District Council meetings to continue until social distancing no longer applies

Arun District Council is to continue holding virtual meetings until the government completely relaxes social distancing rules.

Arun Civic Centre
Arun Civic Centre

When the pandemic hit, temporary legislation was brought in to allow local authority meetings to be held online – but that legislation expired this month and was not extended.

The decision left councils all over the country looking into ways to carry on without putting staff, councillors or the public at risk.

At a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (May 12), it was agreed that online meetings would continue but only advisory decisions would be made.

It would then be up to chief executive officer Nigel Lynn to use emergency powers to give formal consent to those decisions.

When asked why some meetings could not be held in a larger venue, Mr Lynn repeated the need to protect council staff.

He said: “I have looked at other venues and there are venues where smaller committees can take place – but you won’t have any staff there.

“You will be meeting by yourselves because the staff cannot be put into vulnerable positions when we know there is a risk to them.

“The government themselves are saying work from home when you can.”

Reacting to concerns raised online, Mr Lynn also assured members that the full council meeting had been called legally and told them that other councils were taking the same route as Arun.

Virtual meetings will continue to be held until June 21 or whenever the social distances rules end.  

It was agreed that no planning or licensing meetings would be held before that date.

Leader Dr James Walsh said: “The overriding need throughout the pandemic is to assure the health and safety of all councillors, of all employees of all ages – and some of our employees have not yet had their first jab.

“Therefore it’s our duty under current govenment guidelines and normal health and safety practice, to make sure we have safety for everybody.

“This is a way of achieving that.”

There was criticism of the government’s decision not to extend the temporary legislation – something which could have saved councils a lot of bother.

Tony Dixon (Ind, Aldwick East) said: “The government’s failure to renew the legislation is a shocking example of their total lack of commitment to local government.”

Karen Dunn , Local Democracy Reporting Service