To consider a report by the Team Leader, Democratic Services.
The Leader introduced the report and highlighted that this was a procedural matter, of which the proposal included in the report had received cross party support. The Leader proposed the recommendation set out in the report.
The recommendation was seconded by N Ireland who indicated that he wished to speak to the motion at the end of the debate.
During the discussion, a number of councillors spoke to express their thanks and support in respect of work undertaken by the council’s staff and councillors and key workers in the community, for their response to the situation with Covid-19. A particular point of thanks was noted to the Fire and Rescue Service in respect of recent fires in the area.
During the discussion, the following points were raised:
· A point was raised that there was legitimate public concern that councillors were not attending meetings at this time and that decisions were not being scrutinised. Questions were raised as to how residents were able to raise their concerns in a public forum between now and October and how the contributions made by ward councillors could be monitored?
· In response, the Leader noted that most councillors would attend a meeting during this period and that the recommendation provided a safeguard position only if required. He noted that there would be an Annual Meeting of Council in September 2020 and that Cabinet continued to meet and take questions from the public
· Plans for the Council meeting in September were being considered, which included a possible hybrid solution for how councillors could attend the meeting
· In response to a point raised with regard to the importance of local democracy and the restoration of committee meetings, the Leader noted that many officers had been seconded into other areas of work. In the short term a number of decision making meetings had been prioritised, although in addition to these, a number of additional meetings had been scheduled
· Reference was made to recent meetings of the Resources Scrutiny Committee and the Audit and Governance Committee. In addition, proposals for hybrid meetings were being discussed
· The point was made that the recommendation in the report sought to prevent any councillor being disbarred from being a councillor through no fault of their own. In addition it was noted that councillors could continue to support their communities during this time and that this was of value to local communities.
At the conclusion of the debate, N Ireland spoke to express his support of the motion. However he made reference to a recent meeting of Full Council held at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council where all councillors had been able to participate and he felt that Dorset Council needed to consider its arrangements for meetings, including the Full Council meeting scheduled for September 2020, which may include a hybrid solution.
That all members of Council receive a dispensation in relation to Section 85 of the Local Government Act for the period up to and including 6 May 2021 for the reason that not all members may be able to attend a virtual committee meeting during this pandemic period.