As you will be aware, The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 do not apply to meetings on or after 7 May 2021.
Extending the regulations to meetings beyond May 7 would require primary legislation. The Government has considered the case for legislation very carefully, including the significant impact it would have on the Government’s legislative programme which is already under severe pressure in these unprecedented times. We are also mindful of the excellent progress that has been made on our vaccination programme and the announcement of the Government’s roadmap for lifting Covid-19 restrictions. Given this context, the Government has concluded that it is not possible to bring forward emergency legislation on this issue at this time, and I have written to the leaders of all principal councils in England to make them aware of this. As outlined in the Government’s Spring 2021 Covid-19 Response, our aim is for everyone aged 50 and over and people with underlying health conditions to have been offered a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by 15 April, and a second dose by mid-July. While local authorities have been able to hold meetings in person at any time during the pandemic with appropriate measures in place, the successful rollout of the vaccine and the reduction in cases of Covid-19 should result in a significant reduction in risk for local authority members meeting in person from May 7, as reflected in the Government’s plan to ease Covid-19 restrictions over the coming months.
I recognise there may be concerns about holding face-to-face meetings from May 7 in some circumstances. Ultimately it is for local authorities to apply the Covid-19 guidance to ensure meetings take place safely, but we have updated our guidance on the safe use of council buildings to highlight ways in which they can, if necessary, minimise the risk of face-to-face meetings, and we will work with sector representative bodies to ensure that local authorities understand the guidance and are aware of the full range of options available to them.
You can find the updated guidance here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-o….
The Government’s roadmap proposes that organised indoor meetings (e.g. performances, conferences) are permitted from 17 May, subject to Covid secure guidelines and capacity rules. On this basis, councils should consider the extent to which meetings can operate on the same basis as other local institutions in their area, taking into account their individual circumstances and requirements.
I am grateful for the efforts that local authorities have made to allow remote meetings in their area and recognise that there has been a considerable investment of time, training and technology to enable these meetings to take place, and I am aware that some authorities, though by no means all, have made calls for the Government to allow express provision for remote meetings beyond the scope of the pandemic. I am launching a call for evidence on the use of current arrangements enabling remote meetings and to gather views on the question of whether there should be permanent express arrangements and if so, for which meetings. There are many issues to consider and opinions on the detailed questions vary considerably. This will establish a clearer evidence base of opinion and enable all the areas to be considered before further decisions are made. The Government will consider all responses carefully before deciding to how to proceed on this issue.
Luke Hall MP, Minister for Local Government