COVID-19: New Regulations enable local authorities to meet and vote remotely

New Coronavirus Regulations assist local authorities to continue making decisions as rules are relaxed with regards to physical presence at meetings

17 April 2020

On 4 April 2020, the new Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 (the ‘Regulations’) came into force. They were enacted by the Secretary of State under powers pursuant to section 78 of the new Coronavirus Act 2020. Prior to the enactment of the Regulations, the legal position for local authorities in England and Wales as set out in the Local Government Act 1972 (‘LGA’) required councillors to be physically present at committee meetings in order to vote. The Regulations provide for various amendments to be made to the LGA until May 2021.

The detail

These new Regulations now allow local authorities in England (similar secondary legislation for Wales is expected to be made) to hold and attend committee meetings remotely through the use of video, telephone and live-streaming conferencing technology. This is achieved by Regulation 5(1), which expands the definition of a ‘place’ where a meeting is held (and where members must be present) to include electronic, virtual and digital locations. Remote attendance at meetings is permitted subject to council members being able to hear, and be heard by, and where practicable see and be seen by other members in attendance, and if applicable, any members of the public in attendance (either by entitlement or otherwise). Regulation 5(6) also gives local authorities the power to make their own standing orders and rules about provisions for voting in these remote meetings. 

The Regulations provide that a meeting is open to the public if it can be accessed remotely; that being present at a meeting includes being present remotely; that a document is open for inspection if it is published on the website of a Council and the publication, posting or making available of a document at a Council’s offices includes being published on their website. 

The effect of these Regulations means that, in England, until May 2021, all Council decisions that are made by committee can continue as the Councillors, officers, and where appropriate the public, can meet, debate and vote on matters remotely.

Prior to these Regulations coming into force, some local authorities had already taken steps to modify their constitutions and delegate powers to Chairpersons and Council Chief Executives in order to be able to continue to proceed with decision making, including planning applications, during the period of social distancing and lockdown. While Councils may continue to do this there is now clarity on the ability to hold meetings virtually. The Regulations also remove the requirement for local authorities to hold an annual meeting for this year.

The National Association of Local Councils has produced a guidance note on how local authorities can best implement the practices of remote working including a section on remote working platforms and how to vote.

Further changes

We will continue to monitor any further changes that are announced that affect local government governance and provide updates. If you have any queries on this or local government issues generally, please contact Gary Soloman or Cathryn Tracey.

Key contact

Gary Soloman

Gary Soloman Partner

  • Head of Planning and Compulsory Purchase
  • Regeneration and Highways
  • Compulsory Purchase and Compensation

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