Emergency legislation to be passed to allow Welsh councils to hold meetings remotely
Emergency legislation allowing councils to hold meetings remotely will become law within two weeks.
Public authority meetings have all but ended since the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK because of social distancing guidelines.
However North Wales councils have enacted “emergency powers” which allow leaders to make executive decisions on items normally considered by local authority cabinets.
Other meetings require attendees to be in the room by law and new legislation was needed to change that situation and allow video conference meetings.
A change in the law allowing England to do this came into force on April 4 but there had been no guidance from Welsh Government until now.
Open democracy campaigners have questioned why powers were not implemented sooner, allowing for public scrutiny of local council decisions but a spokesman for Welsh Government confirmed to the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service plans were now in hand.
He said the new law will allow for the public and media to view meetings being held at public bodies “where practicable” during the pandemic.
It will cover councils and major public bodies such as police and crime panels, national parks and fire authorities.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We will bring forward emergency legislation to provide flexibility to enable local authorities to operate safely, effectively and lawfully, while retaining the principles of openness and accountability to the public by conducting meetings on the basis of remote attendance.
“This includes observing the right of access for the public and media to view proceedings live through electronic means, where practicable, during the pandemic.
“We are working closely with the range of authorities across local government including community councils, national park authorities, fire and rescue authorities as well as county and county borough councils, to ensure the regulations take account of the circumstances of the different authorities and will work in practice.
“Our aim is that the regulations will come into force on and from 20 April and will be accompanied by guidance.”
By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter
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