Allow more virtual council meetings says Suffolk MP Poulter

Dan Poulter in Ipswich

Dr Dan Poulter called for the government to allow council meetings to be held online. - Credit: Office of Dr Dan Poulter

Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter wants councils to be able to hold more meetings remotely in a bid to make them more accessible to members and residents who may live over a wide area.

He has called on the Government to consider granting a permanent extension to legislation which would allow local councils to meet remotely using video technology.

In order to help tackle the spread of coronavirus, the Government extended powers in early 2020 to allow local authorities, including town, district and parish councils, to hold their meetings remotely, using video technology.

The Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP has written to communities secretary Michael Gove to ask him to bring back this legislation while Omicron remains a threat and also asking for it it be extended permanently.

He said town and parish councils often struggled to get a quorate meeting because of the concerns of members who may have health issues and be self-isolating.

He said that East Suffolk is one of the largest districts in England with large rural areas and a population of 250,000. Remote meetings would be much better for many councillors. 

Dr Poulter said “While excellent progress continues to be made with the rollout of the vaccination programme, the coming months remain uncertain due to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

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"Covid-19 has brought many challenges, and it has also given local authorities the opportunity to innovate and it is my view that one of the more successful innovations has been the way in which many of them have embraced online public meetings, effectively modernising and increasing participation in local democracy in a very short space of time.

"It would be regrettable if we were to take a step back from this positive progress due to out of date legislation that was made long before modern technology was invented."

He said the government should support innovation to make democracy more open: "I think it makes sense to allow a return to remote meetings for the immediate future.

"I also fully support permanent legislative change, and completely support parish, town and district councils in their wish to decide for themselves the best format for their future meetings."

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