Today, the Mayor has made the difficult decision of cancelling the Full Council meeting this evening, following advice from the Director of Public Health and conversations with the political group leaders. With Covid-19 cases rapidly increasing, the Labour Group fully endorse this decision and believe it is in the best interests of keeping council staff, members of the public and councillors safe.
It is deeply disappointing that the Conservative Group are not taking this latest wave of Covid-19 seriously, and are taking this opportunity for cheap political point scoring by claiming this sensible decision in line with public health guidance is ‘anti-democratic’.
We are in the midst of a serious public health pandemic, with cases of the new Omicron variant spiking, and with Brighton & Hove being above the national average for cases of Covid-19.
This is a virus that has cost lives, cost people their loved ones, their health, their jobs and businesses.
The Labour and Green Groups would prefer to conduct these meetings virtually in order to protect council staff and public participants, but Government legislation no longer allows this. We hope that the difficult decision to cancel meetings taken by Brighton & Hove City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, Kent County Council, Greenwich London Borough Council, Bradford Council and others will prompt the Conservative Government to act, and introduce emergency legislation to allow local authorities to meet virtually again.
The Government’s current approach is totally out of step with reality, much like the local Conservative group of Councillors, who refused any pairing arrangements to reduce the number of Councillors potentially present at any in-person meeting today, and wanted to pack the Town Hall like Downing Street during a Christmas party, insisting on all 54 Councillors being in the chamber.
Before today’s meeting was eventually cancelled, the Labour and Green groups had voluntarily dropped our number of attendees to reduce the risk of Covid transmission, meaning we would have been in the perverse situation where the Conservatives’ stubbornness in the face of clear health and safety risks led to an anti-democratic Full Council meeting, where they as the third and smallest party in our city would have been the most represented. That’s not what our residents voted for, and after refusing to agree to any pairing arrangements, the Conservatives now claiming to be the defenders of democracy rings rather hollow.
The Conservative Government have wildly mishandled this public health emergency, and if the behaviour of the local Conservative Group in recent days is any indication, this should come as little surprise. No wonder the death rate for the UK stands well over 2000 deaths per million people which is significantly higher than other European Countries.
The Labour Group are pleased that public health guidance is being followed, and that residents and council staff will be kept safe by today’s announcement. We are also pleased that a public engagement meeting will still be going ahead virtually this afternoon, to allow residents to put forward petitions and questions as usual.