On the date of publishing, the government have advised against unnecessary travel, social distancing measure are also in place especially for over 70s and those with certain underlying conditions. Home working has also been recommended. We thought it wise to explore the options open to Councils to continue with Parish, Town or Community business under the unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Parish Council Meetings And Coronavirus
There are a number of statutory meetings and deadlines that apply to local councils through the year – you can find out more about these from your county association. To date, there has been no change to legislation or government guidance to amend these statutory duties. We understand that NALC has a page set up to deliver announcements on this issue.
Holding Parish Council Meetings Under Social Distancing Rules
Now more than ever, transparency and information is important to members of the community in which we live. Whilst public safety and adhering to the advice issued by the Government is paramount, this doesn’t mean that the community needs to suffer unnecessarily.
Here at NetWise, we’ve been home working since the first week of March. It was a contingency that we’d had in place for some time and we’d done a little homework on the logistics beforehand. One of the key drivers for this decision was that we were keen to reduce face to face contact as the Coronavirus took hold around the UK. We needed to still provide a continued support service to the many Parish Councils, Town Councils and Community Councils that we serve whilst protecting the health of the NetWise team. Whilst we tested and developed many systems, one in particular we feel could be extremely useful for conducting Online Parish Council Meetings.
Online Parish Council Meetings During Coronavirus Pandemic
Online meetings are nothing new, they’re used daily by many businesses to facilitate meetings across the UK and even the globe. When you think of online meetings you often think of Skype or FaceTime but technology has moved quickly over the past few years and there are some great easy to use tools out there.
Our favourite by far is Zoom, we use it daily at NetWise to replace the old face to face meetings that we once held. Let’s take a quick look at the benefits.
- It’s free!
- Unlimited 1 to 1 time
- Unlimited number of meetings
- Up to 40 minutes per meeting of 3 – 100 participants (Upgrade to longer for £11.99)
- 256 bit SSL security
- Video if required
- Screen share facility
- Participants don’t need a Zoom account
- Can be accessed via a computer, tablet or phone
- Invites can be sent via email or text
Parish Council meetings are not public meetings however members of the public do have a statutory right to attend meetings of the council as observers. They have no legal right to speak unless the Parish Council Chairman authorises them to do so. Zoom can accommodate this as you’re able to plan a meeting in advance and issue invitations via email or message. It’s free for participants to join the meeting as long as they have an internet connection. At any point, the organiser of the meeting can remove individual participants, useful for non public discussions regarding contracts etc at the end of the meeting.
Additionally, should you wish you can record the entire meeting. This would make the job of compiling minutes much more simple for your clerk.
We don’t tend to use the video conferencing feature for two reasons,
- It places an unnecessary burden on internet connections
- We know what each other looks like to begin with
The meeting defaults to audio only so to preserve privacy. We made a short video to show how easily you can host an online Parish Council meeting using Zoom.
Advice For Parish Councils During The Coronavirus Pandemic
The extraordinary situation that we find ourselves in and the speed at which things are developing is resulting in an unsure landscape for everyone. Rest assured that we are still here providing support and advice as normal. We’ve taken the precaution to encourage work from home in order to observe social distancing and isolation advice.
We understand the pressures that Parish Councils have faced leading up to these events. Over the past few years, Councils have had to grapple with regulatory changes in the form of the Transparency code, GDPR and more recently, WCAG2.1AA which covers accessibility regulations for public sector bodies.
As working from home becomes the norm, there hasn’t been a better time to catch up with the regulations and to get your Parish Council up to speed. We’re able to help you to get a fully compliant website up and running in just a few weeks. This will ensure that you have an easily accessible platform on which to keep your community informed both now and as the economy recovers during the summer months.