The Telegraph has reported over the weekend that Local Government minister, Robert Jenrick, is considering changing the law to allow for remote meetings to remain in place council meetings beyond 7th May 2021.
The article reports that the change is being considered following the Handforth Parish Council meeting that went viral. If the changes were to go through it would most likely mean that remote meetings, or possibly hybrid meetings, could be a permanent option.
Most people are now familiar with remote meetings that are entirely online, usually with no one in the same room as anyone else. Online meetings have given councils a unique opportunity over the last year to extend their reach into their communities; building awareness and generate positive interest. Many councils have even taken to streaming, their meetings to social media, enabling residents and stakeholders to watch videos live or afterwards at a time to suit them.
Communications & Technology: an opportunity and a challenge for parish and town councils
Hybrid meetings are a completely different prospect, though. Essentially, hybrid meetings are where some people are in a physical meeting space and some people join remotely.
The possibility is, on paper at least, a great opportunity for parish and town councils up and down the country. It has the potential to allow for much greater community engagement in the decision making process. It would also allow parish and town councils to demonstrate to everyone in the community the hard work they put in and the great services they provide.
However, there would first be a number of challenges to overcome; not least in terms of using effective IT equipment to make the meetings work for those meeting in a physical space, and questions around the cost of such infrastructure.
This is a fast-moving area that we watch with interest. However, regardless of whether we end up with the continuation of remote meetings, a move to hybrid meetings or indeed a return to physical-only meetings, the communications opportunities remain for local councils.
The key question councils need to address is: whatever the future holds, how can we continue to build even more effective communication and engagement with our community?