OPINION

Remote meetings are crucial to keep people covid-safe

Posted On 15 Jan 2022 at 3:42 pm

The Labour and Green leaders on the council recently wrote jointly to the government, urging them to bring forward emergency legislation to allow local councils to meet virtually again – in the face of record high covid-19 cases.

The current meeting rules are forcing Brighton and Hove City Council to take unnecessary and avoidable risks to people’s health and safety.

You may have seen that Jackie Weaver is backing a national petition calling for councils to be allowed virtual meetings again, which the Labour group strongly support.

The government should give elected councillors powers to decide collectively and democratically on the most appropriate format of meetings (virtual, hybrid or in-person), according to the level of risk locally.

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It is of course vital that meetings are open to the public to ensure transparency and democracy, and interestingly public participation actually increased when meetings took place virtually.

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 and 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 steeply again.

It is not just councillors up and down the country who are put at risk – it is council officers, cleaners, security staff, even the bus drivers and passengers who must share public transport with those forced to attend in person.

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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 – crucially – any others.

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.

Councillor Amanda Evans is the deputy leader of the Labour opposition on Brighton and Hove City Council.

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