Hertfordshire County Council take to the stage for return of in-person meetings
The newly elected county council met ‘in-person’ on Tuesday
Hertfordshire County Council has raised the curtain on a return to ‘in-person’ meetings – as they convened in the Gordon Craig Theatre, in Stevenage.
For the past year – since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – councils have been allowed to hold their meetings virtually.
But after a failed High Court bid to enable these online meetings to continue, the newly elected county council met ‘in-person’ on Tuesday, May 25.
The meeting could not be held in the regular council chamber, at County Hall, because of the continuing requirement to socially distance – so it was moved to the Gordon Craig Theatre.
Attendance at the annual meeting of the council was limited to councillors and essential officers – with the public and press limited to access to the webcast.
In the auditorium, the chairman and vice-chair sat on the stage with essential officers, including county council chief executive Owen Mapley.
And the remaining councillors sat in the auditorium – and were asked to stand up when addressing the council.
Alternate rows – and seats between councillors – were cordoned off to ensure social distancing.
And measures inside the theatre included a one-way system and a request to remain at ‘right angles’ to others when moving about, as well as a requirement to wear face coverings, unless speaking.
Even the chairman’s chain was sanitized before it was ‘passed’ on.
The cost to the county council of moving the meeting to the alternative venue – including venue hire and other additional costs – is said to have been around £3,100.
Councils had been allowed to meet virtually, as a result of provisions specified in Coronavirus regulations.
But the powers allowed by those regulations were time-limited – and ran-out on May 7.
Hertfordshire County Council – alongside Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Services Officers – did go to the High Court, to question whether existing legislation would allow virtual meetings to continue.
And essentially they asked the court to focus on the interpretation of ‘meeting’, ‘place’, ‘presence’ and ‘attend’ in the Local Government Act (1972).
But the High Court ruling determined that after May 7 council meetings ‘must take place in a single, specified geographical location’.
And it suggested primary legislation would be required to allow local authority ‘meetings’ to take place remotely.
Now councils are having to consider whether their usual in-person meeting arrangements – and venues – allow then to comply with continuing restrictions required to halt the spread of Covid-19.
The county council opted to move to a larger venue that would allow social distancing.
As expected at the annual meeting of Hertfordshire County Council Cllr Richard Roberts – already elected as the new leader of the Conservative group – was elected as the leader of the county council, after former leader David Williams lost his seat in the May 6 elections.
Cllr Seamus Quilty was elected as chairman of the county council – and Cllr Annie Brewster as vice-chairman.