Councillor slams decision to scrap online meetings

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Cornwall councillor Rob Nolan.

5th May 2021

By Juliet Lunam

Cornwall councillor Rob Nolan has labelled the return to face-to-face meetings as an ‘opportunity missed’ and wants to lobby government for a change of policy.

The portfolio holder for environment and public protection said the move to online meetings during the pandemic had taken some getting used to.

He added: “A year ago most of us hadn’t done an online meeting, so when we started they were a bit stilted and awkward, but now we’re old hands and they work really well.

“No more driving to meetings has meant not only a saving of at least 30,000 miles a day in travel but we’re also more effective, we can get more meetings in as we’re not wasting time driving around.”

But a recent ruling by the High Court has said this cannot continue and councillors must return to their normal meeting places.

Hertfordshire County Council applied for permission to continue remotely when the temporary regulations on the pandemic expire.

But the High Court said local authorities must ensure full council and committee meetings take place at a specific location and being ‘present’ involves being in the room.

Cllr Nolan believes this is the wrong decision for various reasons.

He said: “Of course you get more out of meeting face-to-face, but the advantages of meeting online are massive.

“Cornwall Council is saving between 30,000 and 50,000 miles a day in staff and councillor travel; that’s hours of driving around Cornwall sat in cars damaging the environment and being paid for it.

“To give an extreme example, I recently gave a presentation to councillors in Cumbria.
“They are thinking about becoming a Unitary Authority, and wanted to hear from Cornwall as somewhere which had been through it.

“A half -hour presentation followed by questions – an hour in total. In the past I’d have had to set off the night before, spend the day there, and then the long journey home. Instead I attended meetings in the morning, did my hour with Cumbria and then was back to meetings in Cornwall. We’re all getting more done.

“Perhaps we’re working too much; I’ve heard people say it’s not working from home, it’s living at work.”

Cllr Nolan also pointed out it could be too soon to be putting more than 80 people together in one room.

He added: “Covid hasn’t gone. In January, India thought they’d beaten covid. Let’s not make that mistake, let’s take things slowly.

“Vaccinations are going well, but staff won’t all be jabbed by the end of May, when the Government says we have to return to face-to-face meetings.

“They’re entitled to safe working conditions. So let’s continue to lobby the Government for a more gradual return, and for those meetings which can be done online, let’s keep them that way.”

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