Council moves to hybrid meetings as Omicron spreads

Hove Town Hall

Members of the public will be kept separate from councillors at meetings to improve social distancing.

As the Omnicrom variant of covid spreads, Brighton and Hove City Council set the public engagement part of a separate remote or hybrid meeting to reduce numbers in the town hall chamber when it meets on Thursday 16 December.

The report before councillors states: “As the law stands at the moment, it is not possible to hold council or committee meetings (with the exception of licensing panels) other than in person.

“A large part of the public engagement (questions, petitions and deputations) involves exchanges between a member of the public and the lead member and other members do not have an active role to play.”

Committee chairs will attend in the council chamber in person, with the public presenting either in person or remotely through Teams software.

The first hybrid public engagement session is scheduled to start at 4.30pm, an hour-and-a-half before the Full Council meeting on Thursday.

Petitions that have achieved the 1,250 signature threshold will still have a debate with the full council.

The council is also considering making members’ questions a hybrid event to reduce contact.

All meetings are scheduled to take place at Hove Town Hall due to the cost of hiring a larger external venue and the limitations of Brighton Town Hall.

Officers are recommending just 40 councillors attend meetings to limit contact.

The report said: “There is still a significant risk associated with gatherings, especially given the spread of the Omicron strand of the virus.

“Given the absence of an eternal venue large enough to host full council meetings at a reasonable cost, it is recommended that members adopt a voluntary reduction in numbers.

“Currently, we are aware that a number of members will not be attending, although we have not had confirmation from all groups.”

The council cannot force any political group to reduce its attendance but relies on cooperation from members.

During the October Full Council meeting at Brighton Town Hall, councillors set a seat apart or in an anti-room to watch the debate.

After the public session and members’ questions, the meeting was abandoned after a Labour councillor received a positive PCR test notification.

Council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty has long criticised the government for removing the law that allowed for virtual meetings until May this year.

In a tweet after the government announced people should work from home from Monday 13 December, he said: “So that’s work from home … unless you’re a councillor in England.

“Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all legalised virtual council meetings during the pandemic or prior to comply with outdated legislation.

“England’s councillors face covid illness and worse for attending council meetings.”

The public engagement meeting starts at 4.30pm and Full Council at 6pm on Thursday, 16 December.

Both meetings are scheduled for webcast on the city council website.

  1. bradly23 Reply

    “the absence of an eternal venue” = try heaven or hell …

  2. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    An “anti-room”? Is that for the Opposition?

  3. Mike Beasley Reply

    An ideal excuse for Cllr Druitt + Alex to head off to their Alpine lair and hit the slopes ! I hear Phelim’s Lear Jet is available

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