Jackie Weaver has no authority here – but a petition could change that

A Brighton and Hove councillor has backed a petition supported by a local government official Jackie Weaver whose efforts to chair a stormy parish council meeting became an internet sensation.

But for now, Jackie Weaver has no authority here, and Brighton and Hove City Council must continue to hold meetings in person despite concerns about covid.

Green councillor Hannah Clare, the deputy leader of the council, criticised the requirement yesterday (Monday 10 January) at the start of a meeting at Hove Town Hall.

A few days earlier Councillor Clare retweeted a story on the Guardian news website headlined: “Jackie Weaver pleads for return of online council meetings.”

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Not all councillors supported her stance – and yesterday one of her political opponents even accused her of using covid as a cover to stifle debate.

At the start of the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee meeting, Councillor Clare said: “While the government declares that everyone should work from home, they only mean that if you’re not a councillor in England.

“Every other nation in the United Kingdom … has recognised the farcical nature of councillors being dragged into council chambers when it is clear the public health risk is high and that … a virtual meeting is no less effective.

“As someone who has caught covid-19 last autumn from attending meetings related to my role, let me be clear that the risk is very real.

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“On this committee we have members who are clinically vulnerable, one who has decided that the risk is so high that she cannot attend today and another member who is quite clearly heavily pregnant.

“She is putting herself and her unborn baby at risk and her other small children … because the government is putting their fingers in their ears and not allowing us to continue this remotely as we did for the first year of the pandemic.

“There is a petition put together on Change.org by the Association of Democratic Services Officers and the Lawyers in Local Government.

“Because let me be clear, it is not just councillors who are at risk but our staff too. And on a national level, the organisations that represent them are making that very clear.

“I have tweeted the petition which is also backed by Jackie Weaver and I would urge you to sign it.

Jackie Weaver

“There is no use pretending that the pandemic is over and doesn’t need strong measures to curb it.

“The more the government puts in half-baked measures, the longer this pandemic will go on. Learning to live with covid cannot mean ignoring the risks.

“We have already seen schools in other parts of the country close as they face a shortage of teaching staff, with no plan from government to address this – so the lack of measures is clearly having an impact on education across the country too.

“In all settings, for the safety of members of the public, I urge stronger measures.”

The petition to change the law in England to allow remote meetings was started by the Association of Democratic Services Officers and Lawyers in Local Government on Change.org.

The law was changed to allow remote decision-making when the coronavirus pandemic started but the temporary law has since lapsed and English councils are required to meet in person to make decisions.

Councillor Hannah Clare

In Brighton and Hove, the two most recent meetings of the full council were cut shorts for covid-related reasons, including the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Next month the council is planning to hold a virtual “public engagement” session at the start of a full council meeting scheduled for Thursday 3 February.

Independent councillor Tony Janio said that there was no need for virtual meetings, with the omicron strain of the virus proving “less deadly” than winter flu.

He said: “The suggestion that councillors return to whimpering behind screens at home appears to me to be another part of the hysteria that has engulfed the world over the last two years.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we also petitioned to return to virtual meetings in Brighton and Hove but I would be very much against this suggestion.

Councillor Tony Janio

“If a councillor is ill and unable to attend a meeting, then so be it. We need to return to normality as soon as possible.”

Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth said: “We would happily attend meetings in person if it means that we are able to carry out the duties that we volunteered to carry out with gusto on behalf of the thousands of residents that we represent.

“The cancellation of full council meetings locally is seen by many as a way of escaping scrutiny, especially given how many in the real world never stopped working in the first place.

“Arguing about whether or not meetings should be virtual is simply a distraction when Brighton and Hove is now behind on nearly every meaningful metric.”

Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh was keen to continue allowing residents to take part in meetings virtually so they did not have to “schlep to Hove Town Hall”.

Councillor Bridget Fishleigh

She said: “I personally welcome the ability to ask questions via video in council meetings where I’m not on the actual committee.

“I do think that council meetings should be conducted in person whenever possible, with councillors who are shielding or self-isolating able to participate virtually, including voting.”

Labour councillor Amanda Evans said that, with more than 100,000 new covid cases a day and rising hospital admissions and deaths, council meetings should be held virtually.

Councillor Amanda Evans

She said: “It is not just councillors up and down the country who are put at risk. It is the officers, the cleaners, the security staff.

“Come to that, it is the bus drivers and passengers as we all make our way to and fro in order to mumble at each other in person through our masks when democracy could be easily done – and seen to be done – maskless on a computer screen.”

The Green leader of the council, Phélim Mac Cafferty, has repeatedly criticised the law requiring councillors to attend meetings in person.

Last May, at the council’s first Policy and Resources Committee meeting in a year, Councillor Mac Cafferty said that he was there under protest because the law had not kept up with the advances in technology that allowed decision-making remotely.

Councillor Carmen Appich and Councillor John Allcock

Labour councillor John Allcock, the joint opposition leader, said that he and the co-leader of the opposition, Labour councillor Carmen Appich, wanted councils to have the power to decide whether to have virtual or in-person meetings – or a hybrid – according to the level of risk.

He said: “It is, of course, vital that the meetings are open to the public in order to ensure transparency and democracy.

“Interestingly, we believe the public participation increased in virtual meetings.”

  1. Chaz. Reply

    The more we read from this Hamnah Clare the more we realise Brighton is desperate for adult councillors.
    Are the Greens not embarrassed by her utterings or is she singing from their same hymn sheet?

  2. Ben Dover Reply

    oh give me strength we have had two years of this brighton & hove is back working yet BHCC is still closed shame the greens still use covid as an excuse

  3. fed-up with brighton politics Reply

    Cllr Clare seems to have recovered from her covid. If these are just committees, which have a limited number of members (i.e. not the full monty 54 councillors) then surely it isn’t beyond their wit – if, indeed, some of them, especially Cllr Clare, have any wits – to get fully jabbed, practise the appropriate hand-wringing – sorry, hand-washing – socially distance as appropriate and get on with actually doing something. Although, given the Greens’ track record, it might be a whole lot better if they did nothing at all.

    So we now have a council in exile, do we? For heavens’ sake!!

  4. Gareth Hall Reply

    CLLR Robert Nemeth wants us all to think he’s doing us a favour in standing as a councillor conveniently forgetting the £ 15+ grand we pay him

    • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

      I don’t think that Tories are particularly fond of Nemeth, actually. As an ex-Tory, I’m certainly not. However, as Steve Bell is frequently missing in action, presumably due to his paid job for his MP wife, we now seem to be stuck with Nemeth as the mouth and trousers of the Tories. Pity that Lee Wares had to bow out.

    • Chaz. Reply

      You seem to forget your Amy complaining she was not paid enough as a councillor Gareth.
      Strange not to see you mention that in your partisan comments huh.
      As she said:
      “People in local politics don’t talk about elected members’ allowances enough.”
      She is glad you are raising it for her again though. Bless.

      • Gareth Hall Reply

        Not sure why you think she’s my Amy ?

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