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Local Government Figures Back Flexible Working To Improve Diversity And Save Money

The vast majority of councillors want to return to a hybrid system for local authority meetings (Alamy)

2 min read

Exclusive: A vast majority of local councillors back a return to hybrid meetings saying it will improve diversity in local government as well as save money.

The County Councils Network (CCN) is urging the government to allow people to attend meetings remotely again after the legislation allowing it during the pandemic lapsed.

The body, which represents England’s largest local councils, carried out a survey of almost 500 councillors in conjunction with Zoom, and found a strong appetite for a choice between online and in-person meetings.

They also said allowing virtual meetings could have environmental benefits, pointing out one councillor said he travels 1,000 miles a year to attend council meetings in person.

In total, 87% of respondents agreed that they would like their council to be able to adopt a hybrid set-up going forward, while 72% of those surveyed from the 36 local authorities CCN represents said it could attract more younger people, ethnic minorities, and women to stand in local elections.

Of the councillors who had caring responsibilities, nine in ten said a hybrid model would allow them to better balance their role with local government and the rest of their lives, whilst eight in ten without caring responsibilities said a hybrid model would provide a better councillor-life balance.  

The legislation allowing local authorities to hold virtual meetings was in the Coronavirus Act 2020, but lapsed in May 2021. While government has previously committed to re-introducing it, the bill was absent from last week’s Queen’s Speech, which sets out their agenda for the next year.

Councillor Julian German, CCN’s rural spokesperson, said: “One of the most defining features of first lockdown was the rise of video conferencing, and councils embraced this technology, turning the way they operate upside down almost overnight 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.”

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