Return to physical meetings on the agenda for new council

Tuesday May 17th 2022


Covid saw council meetings switched to being held online.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

One of the first jobs for Midlothian’s new councillors will be to decide whether to scrap remote meetings and return to the council chamber.

The new council meets for the first time next week following this month’s local government election.

And the first item on the agenda for them is whether to return to physical meetings or keep using the internet.

Council officers have drawn up a report outlining the benefits and downfalls of remote meetings as well as putting forward a hybrid option, which would allow people to choose whether to attend in person or via the internet.

And drawing on their experience of the last two years compared to previous meetings, they have said remote or hybrid meeting are more inclusive and flexible.

They also point out that providing people with options for how they attend provides those with health issues or disabilities with easier access as well as supporting sustainable access.

The report said: “The assessment of impacts points to a greater ability to attend or participate in meetings if remote or hybrid options are pursued which can only have a positive impact on the equalities groups.

“Whilst this approach may present difficulties for those who do not have access to the necessary technology the opportunity exists to use the digital facilities available in community libraries free of charge.”

Negatives highlighted over returning to ‘fully in person’ meetings include possibly stopping some people from attending.

The report added: “The option of a return to fully in person meetings is expected to present a range of barriers to equality groups which may prohibit or limit attendance, whether through the requirement to travel, the cost of travel and the time required for physical attendance versus remote, the impact of being away from home or a more local location, less flexibility for options to provide sensory or hearing supports.

“Meetings only held or accessible by physical attendance would have no means to record and publish a voice or video recording of the meeting.

“In contrast virtual attendance would require attendees to have access to a digital device and internet access.”

The council meets for the first time on Tuesday, May 24, when they are also expected to appoint a new council leader.

No formal confirmation of how the administration will be made up has been given two weeks on from the election, which saw the SNP return the biggest group of councillors with eight elected members while Labour have seven and the Conservatives three councillors.

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