COUNCILLORS should be “encouraged” but not forced to attend in person meetings in the future.
At a meeting of Powys County Council’s Democratic Services committee on Monday, January 8 councillors received the findings of a review for the “new ways of working,” which includes looking at how council meetings are run and what time they should start.
The review follows a decision by all councillors at a meeting last May to refer the matter back to the committee after questions were asked on whether the proposals complied with legislation.
Since then all councillors had been asked for their views on the subject.
Most chose 10am as a preferred time for committee meetings to start and also for full council meetings to be moved to 10am rather than the current 10.30am.
It was also recommended in the report that each committee Chair considers holding at least one in person meeting a year, and that all committee meetings at the start of a council term are held in person at County Hall for a period of six months.
Interim Head of Transformation and Democratic Services Catherine James said that this was to help councillors “build up relationships” with each other.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Glyn Preston said: “It’s my understanding that guidance sets out by Welsh Government requires that our meetings have a hybrid option.
“Looking at some of these options we need to be a bit more specific about the language.
“A chair may want to encourage but can’t mandate an in person meeting.”
He believed that holding all meetings in person at county hall for the first six months of a new council term would be a “backward step.”
Cllr Preston said: “We don’t want to become an authority where only those who are independently wealthy, self-employed or retired can attend meetings.
“Mandating lots of meetings to happen in person in county hall would be prohibitive to people like me who work full time and those with caring responsibilities.”
On the in person meetings for the first six months of a council term, Cllr Preston added: “It should be up to councillors to decide how well they want to get to know their colleagues.”
“It shouldn’t be up to council to force people into a room to get to know one another.”
Head of legal and monitoring officer, Clive Pinney said that the guidance from the Wales Local Government Act 2021 is a “little vague” and “open to interpretation.”
“The best practice is to have a hybrid option available,” said Mr Pinney.
Independents for Powys, Cllr Gareth E Jones said: “I get frustrated that every time we have county council meeting, we’re spending 20 to 25 minutes sometimes longer getting IT issues sorted.
“I think one of the recommendations from this group should be that all members are seated 15 minutes beforehand so that we can start on time and give a better impression of the council.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Danny Bebb reminded councillors of the expense of holding in-person meeting.
“We have our carbon footprint to think of and it would seem that we’re going against the grain making (in-person) attendance mandatory,” said Cllr Bebb
Councillors agreed that the language needs to be “softened” and want to see “mandatory” replaced by “encourage” by the time the report is presented at a full council meeting.