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Government to consider allowing virtual committee meetings on temporary basis: Jenrick

The government is to consider bringing forward legislation to legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period during the coronavirus outbreak, the Local Government Secretary has said.

In a call to council leaders and sector bodies, Robert Jenrick said he would also consider bringing forward legislation to remove the requirement for annual council meetings to take place in person.

Last Friday (13 March) in a joint statement on local authority decision-making and the democratic process in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and the Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) echoed the Local Government Association’s recent request that the government look again at the accessibility of council meetings by use of remote means.

The Local Government Secretary also said in the call that:

  • Routine Care Quality Commission inspections would be temporarily suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • Ofsted would look “very favourably” on any requests to defer inspections because of coronavirus;
  • Councils would be able to use their discretion on deadlines for Freedom of Information requests;
  • The deadline for local government financial audits would be extended to 30 September 2020.
  • Additional non-uniform military personnel would now work with Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) on their coronavirus response plans, following the initial announcement of 38 planners supporting the forums in England.

Jenrick said: “As part of the national effort to keep the public safe and deliver essential public services, this government stands with local councils at this difficult time.

“My absolute priority is to ensure they are well placed to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services, including social care."

He added: “Everyone needs to play their part to help the most vulnerable in society and support their local economy, and the government will do whatever is necessary to support these efforts.”

The government last week confirmed the postponement of local, mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections until May next year.