What are the 4 items on the agenda of the public meeting of all Wirral Council councillors on 20th July 2020?
By John Brace (Editor)
Leonora Brace (Co-Editor)
First publication date: 19th July 2020, 12:26 (BST).
Tomorrow’s (20th July 2020) public meeting of all 65 Wirral Council councillors is an extraordinary public meeting and is the first time since March 16th 2020 (that meeting only lasted 15 minutes and 2 seconds) that all Wirral Council councillors will meet (but this time virtually rather than in person) due to the pandemic. The public meeting of all 65 Wirral Council councillors scheduled for the 15th April 2020 was cancelled.
On the agenda are four main items, although agenda item 3 is subdivided into two.
The first two items are declarations of interest and Civic Mayor’s Announcements. It also should be noted that as the Annual Meeting has been postponed to September 2020 that the Civic Mayor is still Cllr Tony Smith (whereas usually an Annual Meeting in May 2020 would have led to a change of Mayor).
Item 3 is “Matters Requiring Approval or Consideration by the Council” and is subdivided into 3a (Six Month Attendance Rule S.85(1) of the Local Government Act 1972) and 3b (Remote Meetings – Procedure Rules).
Dealing with 3a, section 85(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 usually triggers a byelection if a councillor doesn’t attend a public meeting for a period of 6 months (or more), although the Council can approve a reason before the 6 month period. Attendance at virtual public meetings (not held in person) is classed as attendance.
At the moment elections of a councillor cannot be held, for example the byelection following the death of Councillor Chris Blakeley did not take place as originally planned in May 2020, nor did elections of a councillor to 22 wards also originally planned for May 2020.
The last time Wirral Council councillors held a meeting in person was the Planning Committee on the 19th March 2020.
After this six scheduled public meetings were cancelled due to the pandemic.
From the 4th of April 2020 onwards, public meetings of Wirral Council could be held virtually. Public meetings of the Planning Committee, Licensing Act 2003 Sub-Committee, Licensing Panel and Wirral Schools Forum went ahead with virtual public meetings (although the Wirral Schools Forum under slightly different but similar regulations).
However no other public meetings of committees Wirral Council went ahead virtually in the period 4th April 2020 to the date of publication of this article (19th July 2020) (unlike for example nearby Liverpool City Council which managed to hold virtual public meetings of its Cabinet over this period in contrast to Wirral Council).
The resolution that councillors are being asked to agree to is:-
“The absence of any Members from all Council and Committee Meetings be authorised and approved for the period that the provisions of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 are in force or until the Annual Meeting of Council 2021, whichever is the sooner, pursuant to Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972.”
If this resolution is not agreed, the author of the report stated that some current Wirral Council councillors (although names are not specified) will cease to be councillors on 2nd September 2020 (although the six months will be reset if these councillors virtually attend the public meeting on the 20th July 2020).
Decisions made by individual Cabinet members (of which there are ten at Wirral Council) is also classed as attendance according to the Local Government Act 1972, so is attendance at various outside bodies as a Wirral Council representative (such as the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, Mersey Port Health Committee etc).
There is a very somewhat curious section of the report at 3.6 which I will quote in full below (as I don’t understand for reasons outlined below):-
“3.6 Whilst meetings will be held more regularly throughout the remainder of the municipal year, remotely or otherwise, it should also be recognised that several Members may be required to self-isolate, some for long periods, due to illness. Equally, some Members may be unable to attend remote meetings for technological reasons. It is therefore proposed that dispensations be granted for all Members until after the elections in 2021 when the provisions concerning remote meetings contained in the 2020 Regulations come to an end.”
It had to be pointed out that councillors have been able to join virtual public meetings (such as of the Planning Committee) by telephone when internet access or a computer is not available, therefore is this report seriously implying that some councillors can’t either use a computer or the telephone? Or are there reasons unstated in the report? For those councillors who are hard of hearing the webcast meetings of Wirral Council include live automatically generated subtitles that can be switched on.
Shielding of the clinically extremely vulnerable comes to an end on 31st July 2020, so why is there a need to extend this leave of absence for Wirral Council councillors to possibly May 2021?
The other part of item 3, item 3b, report and proposed changes to standing orders are a temporary change to standing orders and the Council?s own procedural rules to have one policy that applies to all virtual public meetings (if approved). Section 3.1, 3.3 and 8 refer to the press. 3.3 (if approved) reiterated the legal requirements on Wirral Council to provide “press facilities” at future virtual public meetings (presumably for the purpose of reporting on public meetings) – although the detail of what “press facilities” is still somewhat open to interpretation by Wirral Council. To give one example of what I requested (and has already been provided at least one nearby council and for one Wirral Council public meeting (Wirral Schools Forum)) – the link to join the Microsoft Teams meeting for the purposes of reporting a Wirral Council Planning Committee meeting), a Wirral Council manager denied the request by email (communicating refusal of the request after the public meeting it related to had taken place).
The last item on the agenda is a statement by Councillor David Burgess-Joyce, who tried (unsuccessfully) to give a statement at the previous meeting on the 16th March 2020 which was adjourned.
It is presumed the statement that Councillor Burgess-Joyce will make arises from the public meeting of the Standards Panel held on the 4th December 2019 (as reported previously on this blog). As a result of a “racist” tweet that Cllr David Burgess-Joyce made in 2019 that attracted a number of complaints, the Standards Panel decided “it would be appropriate that Councillor David Burgess-Joyce should make an apology to the Full Council at the earliest opportunity for his failure to comply with the Code”.
Wirral Council plan to webcast the public meeting (which is scheduled to start at 6.00 pm on Monday 20th July 2020) at this link.
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