Don’t make us go to the Town Hall

ANGER among councillors in Camden last night after the government said remote video meetings should end on May 7 – effectively an order to get back to the Town Hall chamber.

Perhaps, the ministers in charge think all local councillors are old and retired – and vaccinated – but what about the dashing young bucks on the press bench?

As much as we’d all love to be back in the Crowndale Centre – back to the well-spent days of councillors twiddling with their phones while their colleagues are making important speeches – the council will be among the local authorities asking for a change of course on safety grounds.

This story, however, goes beyond whether it will be safe or won’t be safe in early May. Many councillors and council officials were hoping that as everybody was saying that the Covid pandemic had changed the world – and that needless commutes and expensive Pret sandwiches for lunch were a thing of the past – that councils would get to choose some lasting hybrid arrangements: some meetings in person, some via screen, some a mix of both.

And given heaps of other organisations appear to be indicating that they will be changing their working practices after a year working at home and being mauled by the cat, it may seem strange that the same flexibility would not be afforded to some parts of the council.

Think of the angry punters you get in the Town Hall at 10pm on the nights of planning committees; they sit through hours of other people’s applications and protracted discussions about dormer windows only to be told that time has run out to hear theirs and to come back another day.

It’s true that the video meetings have been hit and miss and hardly breaking YouTube viewing figures. Natural discussion, supplementary questions and challenging to and fro have been lost too often – and it’s been easy to shut down our more rebellious members, and for our more anonymous members to wander off.

There are some meetings, probably the majority, that will always be better in person.

But if there was some good chairing and some better, evolving tech (and a way to help pandemic meetings saint Vicky Wemyss-Cooke take a recorded vote more easily), people could be forgiven for thinking council meetings should step out of the pandemic and into the future permanently.

The borough solicitor, Andrew Maughan, seemed to be saying as much the last time the Standards Committee met – back in November – although he made sure to add that he was looking forward to seeing everybody again too…

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