Proposal to ensure councillors are not penalised for missing meetings amid pandemic

A PROPOSAL to ensure Dorset councillors are not disqualified for missing meetings during the coronavirus pandemic will be considered this week. 

Dorset Council has suspended face-to-face meetings since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. New regulations have enabled decision-making processes to continue in accordance with the government’s guidance on social distancing and the majority of the council’s meetings are now going ahead virtually, although some have been reduced or suspended.

In normal circumstances, councillors can be disqualified from the authority for having a poor attendance record, but if the proposal is passed this week, dispensation will be given to members who are unable to take part in meetings during the COVID-19 epidemic. This may be due to illness or because meetings of a committee they sit on are not currently taking place.

Extra resources are required to run virtual meetings. For example, three democratic services officers are needed to support each meeting instead of just one.

Additionally, during the pandemic, some of the council’s employees have been redeployed to provide extra support to vulnerable members of the community. This has reduced the number of employees dealing with ‘business as usual’ matters, and this will continue for the foreseeable future.

To ensure democratic business continues, council leader Spencer Flower recently worked with the leaders of all the council’s political groups to agree a schedule of meetings.

These are: Cabinet; Audit & Governance Committee; three Area Planning Committees; Licensing Sub-Committees; Resources Scrutiny Committee; and School Appeal Hearings. The annual meeting of council has been postponed until September 3.

Meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board and Joint Scrutiny Committee are also being arranged in response to the pandemic.

Councillor Flower said: “During these exceptional times, officers and councillors have worked hard to ensure democracy continues.

“However, as some councillors may not have the opportunity to attend a virtual committee meeting, due to illness or because they are appointed to committees that currently are not taking place, these measures will prevent them being disqualified as a Dorset councillor.”

The proposal will be put to the extraordinary annual meeting to be held at 10am on Thursday, June 11. If the recommendation is agreed, the dispensation would remain in force up to and including May 6 2021.

You can find details of all the meetings being held virtually by clicking here. This includes links to agendas and how to access the meetings live. Information is also provided about how to submit questions to meetings. Recorded meetings are also available to watch after they have ended.

Woodmead Halls

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