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Survey: Councillors want councils to move to hybrid way of holding meetings

Words: Laura Edgar
Virtual meetings / iStock-1269511716

Responding to a survey, 72 per cent of councillors say moving to a hybrid model of holding meetings could attract more younger people, ethnic minorities and women to stand in local elections.

This would see some meetings held in person and others online.

The survey reveals that respondents believe that hybrid meetings could improve local accountability, engagement with residents, and reduce carbon emissions and costs for councils.

The County Councils Network (CCN) surveyed its 36 members, and 479 councillors responded.

Of those respondents, 87 per cent agree that they would like their council to be able to adopt a hybrid set-up going forward. The government has said it is considering this.

Legislation in the Coronavirus Act 2020 allowed local authorities to hold meetings online during the height of the pandemic and the lockdowns implemented to stem the spread of Covid-19. This lapsed in May 2021.

During the lockdowns, 83 per cent of respondents said they spent at least six hours a week taking part in video conferences while 27 per cent said they took part in at least 15 hours a week. Before the pandemic, just 12 per cent of councillors said they had participated in council meetings online.

A Hybrid Future: Experiences From Remote Meetings During the Pandemic in County Authorities was compiled by the CCN and Zoom.

The survey found:

  • 45 per cent of respondents to the survey said they were either self-employed or in full-time work.
  • 89 per cent of councillors with caring responsibilities either agreed or strongly agreed that they would like to adopt a hybrid model for statutory council business, compared to 83 per cent without caring responsibilities.
  • Nine in 10 respondents with caring responsibilities said that a hybrid model would allow them to better balance their role as councillors with the rest of their lives.
  • Eight in 10 without caring responsibilities said a hybrid model would provide a better councillor-life balance.
  • 92 per cent of councillors under the age of 44 and 61 per cent of those aged 65 and over said that adopting a hybrid model would help improve the diversity of councils. In total,
  • 85 per cent of female councillors said such a model would enable a better councillor-life balance.
  • 11 per cent of respondents to the survey were under the age of 44.
  • 51 per cent said adopting a hybrid model that enables local people to watch all meetings online would make their council more accessible and accountable to their residents.
  • 69 per cent of respondents said videoconferencing had helped them to engage with community groups during the pandemic.
  • 70 per cent said a hybrid model would cut down on travel expenses for their local authority, while 76 per cent said it would cut down on their carbon footprint.
  • 71 per cent of councillors said they expect their local authority to adopt a hybrid model which mixes remote and office working for most of their staff.

Julian German, rural spokesperson for the CCN, noted that councils embraced hybrid technologies during the lockdowns, with meetings going virtual.

“Whilst councillors will always want the ability to meet, discuss and scrutinise in person, when reflecting on the lessons learned from the last two years, there are clear benefits to councils offering a hybrid model. There is a clear consensus that hybrid meetings could open the door to attracting a younger, more diverse set of councillors, who are able to effectively balance their councillor and caring or employment responsibilities.

“Councillors across the country are also clear that such a model would also increase transparency and accountability, encouraging more residents to engage in council business, as well as providing cost and environmental benefits to the public sector. This should be viewed as a win-win scenario for government, with a hybrid model offering the best of both worlds. We urge ministers to consider including legislation to enable such a model.”

Charlotte Holloway, UK Government relations director at Zoom, added: “After successfully adapting to new and innovative ways of working over the past two years, this report demonstrates a strong desire from the vast majority of councillors to continue using hybrid technologies for day-to-day work as well as statutory meetings – something currently prohibited in legislation.

“Although councillors have not been able to hold statutory meetings remotely since the emergency Covid-19 measures expired, it’s encouraging to see that councillors recognise how holding regular hybrid meetings can improve transparency and accountability, increase the diversity of councils and save carbon emissions. For councillors, the genie is clearly out of the bottle and they don’t want to go back to the way things were done before.”

Image credit | iStock