Honiton Town Council resumes virtual meetings to limit spread of Omicron variant

Honiton Town Council’s meetings are to be conducted virtually for at least three months after new measures were enacted by the council to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

Philippa Davies www.midweekherald.co.uk

All town council meetings were halted after the pandemic struck in March 2020, and then resumed remotely three months later. Face to face meetings re-started in June this year, after the emergency legislation permitting remote meetings ended on May 6. 

Under legislation dating back to 1972, there is no scope for local councils to hold virtual meetings and decisions must be taken in person. However, under the same legislation, most council decisions can be delegated to an ‘officer of the authority’, with the exception of financial budgetary decisions. 

At an extraordinary meeting of the council on Monday, December 20, councillors were presented with a motion asking to delegate most decision-making authority to the Town Clerk, and to hold online, ‘consultative’ meetings. 

These virtual meetings will continue until at least May 10 2022. They have worked in the same way as in-person meetings, with the exception that recommendations are made as opposed to resolutions. The consultative full council meeting of East Devon District Council  on December 8 further endorsed this set-up. 

Councillor Jake Bonetta, who sits on both Honiton Town and East Devon District Council, proposed the slightly amended motion to move to virtual meetings. He said: “Conducting virtual meetings not only makes meetings much safer for councillors, officers and residents with the current severe outbreak of the Omicron variant, it also provides easier access for all representatives to access meetings and take part in the democratic process. Consultative meetings are a necessary step until the Government legislates for full virtual meetings, and I call on the Government to enact this as soon as possible.” 

The virtual meetings will be held via Zoom, and will be advertised and open to the public. This is very similar to the current physical set-up of meetings at the council, which have recently started to be recorded and live-streamed through Zoom. Details on how to access these meetings can be found on the agenda for each council or committee meeting. 

On the day of the extraordinary full council meeting, 91,743 people across the UK tested positive for the coronavirus. In East Devon, between December 9 and 15, 717 cases of Covid were recorded – a number which is expected to rise with the increased spread of the Omicron variant.