In light of further recent announcements about restrictions on meeting in public places, it is perhaps worth reflecting upon the legislation insofar as it affects parish council meetings.
The unequivocal advice from NALC is that wherever possible parish and town councils should hold all meetings using ‘remote’ technology and not attempt to make arrangements to meet ‘physically’.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 came into force on 14th September. They amended the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020, so that people may not participate in social gatherings, in any place, in groups of more than six, unless they are members of the same household, two linked households or exceptions apply.
The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 came into force on 4th April. These Regulations made it possible to hold Parish Council meetings, including the Annual Parish Council Meeting (albeit the requirement to hold the annual meeting was deferred until May 2021), using remote technology. It appears that most parish and town councils in Staffordshire have successfully adopted the use of ‘Zoom’ to enable them to meet since that time.
Nonetheless, if absolutely unavoidable, and there is a community centre or other suitable venue that has declared that it can be made Covid-safe, then a council can use the premises concerned to hold a meeting subject to not attempting to accommodate more than the maximum number of people permitted under Covid restrictions. However, it must be emphasised that a parish council must conduct its own risk assessment on the activity of hosting a meeting. This includes avoiding pinch points at entrances and toilets; social distancing; and wearing masks throughout. Given that a parish council meeting is a public event which members of the public are entitled to attend, then should even one additional member of the public turn up in excess of the limit applying to the premises, the meeting would have to be closed.
Jonathan Owen, NALC CEO, writes…
Climate change task and finish group
Our climate change task and finish group, set up by the Policy Committee, met recently for a third time. Issues covered included the need for a green thread in all work that local councils undertake, the use of the NALC climate change webpage as a hub of useful information and our forthcoming survey on the ways councils are tackling climate change and any barriers they are facing.
Climate change event and new case studies publication
Our recent online event on rebuilding sustainable communities, heard from Peter Macfadyen, former mayor of Frome Town Council and member of Extinction Rebellion, Clara Goldsmith from The Climate Coalition, and Sandra Bell from the Friends of the Earth. Recurring themes of the event were collaboration and that no action is too small! We also published a case study publication which highlights the fantastic work local councils are undertaking around climate change which is here and I would encourage you to check out for information and inspiration.
Website accessibility regulation
The deadline for public bodies, including local councils, to comply with the website accessibility regulations has now passed. The regulations are perhaps more timely than ever as people rely increasingly on online communication during the pandemic. It’s an opportunity to assess how accessible your website is to people with a range of disabilities and impairments, where often a few small, simple changes can make a big difference. NALC too has audited our website and introduced an accessibility statement. If you haven’t already done this work then don’t worry – our guidance (attached) provides practical guidance and advice to help your council achieve compliance.
NALC dementia guide at Number 10
One of the areas of our work I have been particularly proud of in the last few years has been on building dementia-friendly communities, working closely with the Alzheimer’s Society and University of Plymouth. Which is why I was thrilled our upcoming guide on dementia made its first appearance at Number 10! The formal launch is being finalised so watch this space.
Expert panel on hidden disabilities announced
Staying on the subject of hidden disabilities, this week we unveiled the line-up for the expert panel at our Leaders Talk online event on 30 October. I’m delighted we will be joined by Cllr Liz Hitchins, chair of Dementia Friendly Parishes around the Yealm, Clare Pelham, chief executive of the Epilepsy Society, and Ian Sheriff, academic partnership lead for dementia at the University of Plymouth. This event is sponsored by BHIB Councils Insurance, Blachere Illumination, CCLA and Parish Online, prices start from just £30 so register your place and find out more about this event.
NALC chairman addresses the select committee
“Local councils are fundamental, not incidental to levelling up agenda” was a key message conveyed by our chairman, Cllr Sue Baxter, to a Parliamentary select committee this week. I was delighted that we had been invited to address the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee at the start of their oral evidence session on their inquiry into post-pandemic economic growth and levelling up. Sue also pushed our prospectus to ask of improving links with regional structures such as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS), securing a commitment to address this from the chairman of the LEP network! You can read more in our news story here and watch the committee session again here.
Meeting with shadow local government minister
Colleagues from the policy and communications team held a briefing meeting with the senior policy researcher to the shadow local government minister, Kate Hollern MP, on 2 October. This was a really good opportunity for us to continue to build links and promote our tier of local government and policy agenda, with issues covered including devolution and local government finance.
NALC Smaller Councils Committee
NALC’s Smaller Councils Committee met on 29th September, here are a few highlights:
- The Committee strongly urged smaller councils to continue to meet remotely
- Committee members provided updates on the latest coronavirus situation in their areas
- A discussion took place on how to get smaller councils involved in the devolution process
- The member services team provided updates on work NALC had undertaken to support local councils since the last meeting, the Local Council Award Scheme review and on progressing e-learning
A copy of the latest edition of NALC’s Funding & Grants Bulletin is attached.