Liberal Democrat leader hits out at county council’s virtual meetings that will ‘deny residents a voice’

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha believes the rules for virtual meetings held by Cambridgeshire County Council w

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha believes the rules for virtual meetings held by Cambridgeshire County Council will deny residents a voice. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

The Liberal Democrat opposition has hit out at Cambridgeshire County Council’s rules for new virtual meetings, saying they deny residents a voice.

Under normal circumstances, key council decision-making is done through public meetings, with the public allowed to attend and raise questions in an allocated slot.

The Government has passed legislation to allow councils to temporarily hold these public meetings virtually as part of the coronavirus lockdown measures.

Cambridgeshire County Council will hold its first such meeting on April 22.

The council’s new virtual meetings protocol allows for members of the public to ask questions by submitting them in writing, whereas usually they could be asked in person.

Under the new protocol for a full council meeting, the provision for a supplementary question has been removed.

For a standard committee meeting the opportunity for councillors to ask questions of clarification to the resident has been removed, and a written reply will then be sent within 10 working days.

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Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of the Lib Dem opposition group, said: “Democracy lives or dies with the ability of citizens to hold those in power to account; we should not allow the current crises to literally remove resident voices from council meetings.

“We should be using remote meetings to increase resident participation, not reduce it.”

A county council spokesperson said: “Members have agreed a protocol to allow virtual formal meetings to take place at Cambridgeshire County Council during the remainder of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Committee meetings will be conducted using the Zoom software platform. They will be livestreamed on the council’s YouTube channel for members of the public and the media to watch – with the exception of confidential items – which will be discussed in private as usual.

“Public questions can be submitted in written form and will be published on the council’s website prior to the meeting taking place. Meetings will be recorded to allow people to watch them afterwards if they can’t log on during the event itself.

“Whilst our committee meetings are carried out virtually, they need to be conducted safely via the internet. Therefore, it was agreed to allow public participation in written form.

“We have received considerable representation from the public for the constitution and ethics committee, which will be published on the council’s website before the meeting and read out.

“Many other local authorities are taking the same approach and we will review the protocol after one month of meetings.”

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