I am a parish councillor and a member of the Local History Group. At the start of the lockdown I agreed to keep a diary from a parish councillor’s perspective. I had not appreciated that it was meant to be put onto the MVP website in bite sized sections and so I append a summary of some observations which hopefully a few people will find of interest. Any opinion stated is my own and not necessarily that of the council.
17th March 2020
An agenda was sent out for an extraordinary meeting of the Parish Council. There are certain tasks which are carried out at regular meetings of the council and as a form of lockdown was anticipated it was proposed to delegate the relevant power to the Clerk.
The mechanics of how a parish council operates are substantially governed by the Local Government Act 1972 as amended. Amongst other things these include a requirement to hold annual meetings of the parish and the council; meetings are to be in public and attended by members who want to vote.
Extraordinary full council meeting on 23rd March 2020
In accordance with government guidelines at the time, several councillors were self-isolating due to age or vulnerability. There are fifteen councillors and five are required for a quorum. In the event there were six of us present together with the Clerk; there were two others on standby in if we were not quorate. The meeting was held outside in the garden behind the parish office with attendees keeping to the 2m distancing guidelines. The meeting took two minutes which must be some sort of record.
It was agreed that all council meetings would be cancelled until at least 14th May 2020 and that the Clerk would have certain delegated powers with safeguards.
Planning is the busiest committee generally meeting twice a month. It was agreed that three members of the committee would review the applications and if deemed necessary send the comments to the remainder of the committee prior to submission to WBC. This is possible because the committee does not make decisions and merely passes comments to WBC.
It is interesting to note that if the meeting had happened 4 days later it would have been against the law.
25th March 2020
The Coronavirus Bill received royal assent coming into force at midnight. Amongst other things s78 gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations in respect of parish councils which will be carried out by way of Statutory Instrument.
4th April 2020
What has been described as the snappily named ‘Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority Meetings and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020’ came into force on the 4th April 2020. This allows the deferment of the annual meetings for up to a year. It also allows for virtual meetings to be held. Public access to council meetings is mentioned but the form is not prescriptive.
9th April 2020.
Three members of the Planning Committee held a video consultation. Thankfully the only new application to consider did not prove controversial. There was some new information on a previous application but it did not alter the committee’s previously stated view.
17th + 20th April.
There had been some adverse comments about using Zoom for virtual meetings. The Council were in the process of changing the office system to Windows 365 which has an associated Teams process for virtual meetings. It is likely that the council will use the Teams platform for future virtual meetings. Two practice sessions were held on these dates. It was agreed that holding a full council meeting with voting by this process would be challenging.