Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, the Town Council is unable to hold in-person meetings for the foreseeable future.
This means that, in order to keep functions running and to support community efforts on Covid-19, we must adapt our working methods. All staff are working from home where possible and those who can’t work from home are available for work when needed.
As anyone who has worked with local councils will know, we are not exactly at the cutting edge of modern technology. The significant laws and regulations that bind all parish councils haven’t been updated for a while. The Local Government Act 1972 still applies. These rules we follow have unfortunately meant that there has been no real imperative for councils to update technology, therefore local councils tend not to be equipped to hold remote access public meetings.
However, the Town Council and its staff will learn from this experience and plan improvements to our systems, processes and services for the future. The good news is that there are lots of IT systems out there, some of which have been set up specifically for councils. The bad news is that we can’t put those systems in place until life and work return to at least near normal.
Delegated executive function
The Council on 23rd March 2020 recognised that to hold its planned extraordinary meeting in person in the council chamber would go against the existing Government guidance to stay home and would put staff and councillors at risk. In order for the meeting to be quorate (allowing it to proceed) some of those councillors asked to attend would have been in the higher risk group. Rather than take this risk, an email was sent to all councillors asking them to instead agree to hold the meeting using email. Most councillors responded and all of those agreed.
The remote access meeting meant that all councillors, even those in isolation, had the opportunity to share their view with the others before reaching a majority decision. Our brief experience with this remote meeting was not without difficulty, but it was successful in hearing all comments made, with a full record kept of the process and decisions.
Subsequently, the meeting resolved to grant executive powers to the Town Clerk to progress existing business and to grant financial support to the food bank and other appropriate support groups.
The law does not permit any power to be delegated to a councillor, only an officer. To do our best to maintain democratic representation throughout this time, the Clerk will continue to invite all councillors to have input into decisions before they are taken, and she will specifically liaise with the identified chairmen. We appreciate that the decision-making process is usually made at meetings in front of the press and public and this can’t happen at the current time, but residents are still invited to make contact with their ward councillors who will continue to assist as best they can. Councillor contact details can be found on the Town Council website: http://burnham-highbridge.org/councillors
We appreciate this situation is not ideal, but we are working hard to try to keep systems operating. We hope everyone will be a little forgiving whilst we juggle priorities; we are grateful for your understanding.