Labour’s co-leader of the opposition Cllr Carmen Appich recently wrote jointly with Council Leader Cllr Phelim Mac Cafferty, urging the government to bring forward emergency legislation to allow local councils to meet virtually again – in the face of record high Covid-19 cases.
The current rules on meetings are forcing Brighton & Hove City Council to take unnecessary and avoidable risks to people’s health and safety.
As Labour’s deputy leader, Cllr Amanda Evans stated this week in support of a petition calling for Councils to be able to meet remotely, it seems incredibly irresponsible to insist that all Council and committee meetings take place in person, when they worked perfectly fine virtually during the first year of this.
Especially, in the light of a pandemic so grievously badly handled right from the start, so many deaths & cases of Long Covid already in this country, and now with literally hundreds of thousands of new cases every single day and both hospital admissions and deaths rising again,
It is not just Councillors up and down the country who are put at risk – it is the officers, the cleaners, the security staff, even the bus drivers and passengers who must share public transport with those forced to attend in person.
Most of all, it is our NHS, already on its knees after more than a decade of underfunding and creeping privatisation, and now declaring ‘Critical Incidents’ in one trust after another as thousands of staff succumb a second time, and the rest, many already suffering from PTSD after previous waves, are stretched far too thin to cope, or to provide safe care for either Covid patients or any others.
Furthermore, as Labour’s co-leader of the opposition Cllr John Allcock stated this week, the Government should treat elected Councillors with respect and give them the powers to decide collectively and democratically on the most appropriate format of meetings (virtual, hybrids or in-person meetings), according to the level of risk in relation to local circumstances.
It is of course vital that the meetings are open to the public in order to ensure transparency and democracy, and interestingly public participation actually appeared to increase when meetings took place virtually.
Labour will continue to press the Conservative Government to allow local councils to meet remotely, in order to keep councillors, council staff and residents safe.