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'Why are we here?' councillor asks

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021 2:01pm

By Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

Councillor Gordon Hook wants virtual meetings

Appeal to make Teignbridge meetings virtual

A Teignbridge councillor has told a committee “there doesn’t appear to be any good reason for us to be here” as he called for virtual meetings amid rising covid rates in the region.

Speaking at the district overview and scrutiny committee, Councillor Gordon Hook (Lib Dem, Buckland & Milber) said that “irrespective of coronavirus” they should ask the government to allow the return of remote meetings going forward.

Latest figures show covid cases in Teignbridge have more than tripled in a week, making the rate now slightly higher than the national average of 312 cases per 100,000 people.

Legislation introduced at the start of the pandemic allowed local councils to hold virtual meetings, but the temporary arrangement ended in May and they must now meet in person again. Most councils, including Teignbridge - but not neighbouring Torbay - are still streaming the majority for the public and press.

Cllr Hook said: “Surely the health of officers, councillors and the public, and anybody that strays into this building should be paramount?

“However, putting all that to one side, I would still be advocating a permanent change in our meeting arrangements on numerous other sensible grounds.

“As technology advances, and necessity being the mother of invention – it certainly has in recent months – we should as appropriate, embrace it and adapt.

“I put it to all members that we should be using Zoom, or equivalent, irrespective of coronavirus. If coronavirus did not exist but the current technology did, I would still be advocating the use of Zoom for our meetings."

Cllr Hook, a former leader of the council, pointed to the time-saving, financial and environmental benefits of virtual meetings.

He added: “I accept that some of the formal occasions, the annual council meeting for instance, can and should be actual, but the vast majority can be virtual. I would like to see Teignbridge leading in the national movement of local authorities to achieve this sensible proposition."

Chairman of the committee, Councillor Phil Bullivant (Conservative, Bradley ward), called the suggestion “extremely sensible."

Councillor Stephen Purser, who is not a member of the committee but spoke via Zoom as a member of the public, said he “fully supported” the idea.

“As you can see, I’m zooming in from home because I didn’t wish to come in person to the meeting and just listen in as an attendee, so I would fully support any proposal whereby we moved more strongly to technology and Zoom meetings.”

However, later in the meeting during a discussion on the drop in footfall at Newton Abbot market over the pandemic, Councillor Terry Tume (Conservative, Teign Valley) expressed a warning about online meetings.

“I’m going into Newton Abbot after this meeting. If this meeting was on Zoom I would go into Exeter, because it’s closer to where I live. I think we have to be careful that we don’t build a digital barrier between the people the council is there to help and serve, and also with having meetings on Zoom constantly."

The committee agreed to make the recommendation to the council’s executive, for them to encourage the Local Government Association, the area’s local MPs and the government to change the legislation.

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