Council meet again 'in person' post-pandemic
Mendip District Council has held its first 'in person' Full Council meeting in 18 months.
Council business has continued in earnest throughout COVID, and several Full Council meetings have taken place virtually during that time, however the last physical meeting at the campus in Shepton Mallet was in March 2020.
There were 34 Members present on the night, with four Councillors joining via MS Teams. Some Council Officers and members of the public were also in attendance, with three residents requesting to speak about items featured in the full agenda.
Deputy Chair of Mendip District Council, Cllr Nick Cottle, oversaw business which began at 6.30pm and concluded three and a half hours later at 10pm. The event was live-streamed.
COVID measures were clearly in force. Some 30 screens, last used at Polling Stations, were repurposed for the evening and placed between each Councillor as dividers. All those present were requested to complete a COVID questionnaire and were temperature-checked on arrival. Mask-wearing was encouraged, anti-bacterial wipes and gels were freely available for use, and to avoid unnecessary congregating, Councillors forfeited their usual communal coffee break. All available windows and doors (except fire doors), remained open to aid ventilation and the Council Chamber was sanitised, or 'fogged', both before and after the event.
A High Court ruling earlier this year confirmed all councils must cease remote proceedings for formal public committee meetings, and that Members must return to face-to-face meetings once more if they wanted their vote to count. Councillors, though clearly delighted to meet up again after many months apart, did express disappointment for those colleagues who felt unable to attend due to ongoing health conditions and concerns.
Leader of Mendip District Council, Councillor Ros Wyke, said: "COVID still circulates in our communities. Although measures have been taken to limit the risks of in-person Council meetings, I believe there is merit in a 'hybrid' format for Members that would allow a mix of face-to-face and virtual attendance, which would ensure the votes of those not present, to count.
"Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), the Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) and District Council groups have continued throughout to press Government for a change of heart on this. We will see if the new Secretary of State will take a different approach."