Will councillors still be able to vote if they can’t meet in person?
Local government legislation formerly stipulated that councillors must be physically present to vote and this requirement has already led to the widespread cancellation of Council meetings. There is a limit to what can be achieved under the chair’s emergency powers and delegation to officers.
The Government has now legislated to allow for remote voting until 7 May 2021. The secondary legislation required was issued in draft on 2 April and has been in force since Saturday 4 April.
The legislation allows for committee meetings to go ahead where members and any members of the public attending remotely can all times “hear (and where possible see) and be heard (and where possible be seen) by the other members in attendance”.
It remains to be seen how many local authorities take up the opportunity to hold a virtual committee meeting. Concern has been expressed that the demographic of local councillors may mean that members have difficulty with the technological mechanisms for holding such meetings. However, the message from the Secretary of State is clear that wherever possible, the planning system should keep moving in these current times.