High Court ruling leaves Derbyshire Dales District Council unable to hold meetings until end of lockdown
Derbyshire Dales District Council has put all meetings on hold until at least next month, after a court ruling ended arrangements to carry out democratic business online.
Over the past year, the council has followed most other UK local authorities in staging meetings on Zoom and broadcasting the stream on YouTube.
That was made possible by Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which contained a cut-off date of May 7. Any change beyond that date would require new legislation to supersede the Local Government Act 1972.
In a High Court challenge brought by a nationwide coalition of council representatives, the Government expressed support for the continuation of virtual or hybrid meetings but said it would not bring forward new legislation at this time.
Derbyshire Dales supported the challenge and this week a spokesman said: “If the Government's road map goes to plan, then we should be able to meet as a council indoors again from June 21.
"In April, the council approved that authority be delegated to officers – the chief executive and directors – to take decisions reserved to the council and committees until meetings can safely resume in person at Matlock Town Hall. Committee chairs, vice-chairs, political group leaders and, where appropriate, ward members, are being consulted before decisions are made.”
He added: “Nothing has changed in the meantime, though some of our members have been in touch with Government ministers urging them to look to extend local councils’ ability to meet remotely.
“We would echo the response from the Local Government Association, which expressed disappointment that this last avenue to allow councils to hold online and hybrid meetings while Covid restrictions are still in force was unsuccessful.”
The situation has already ruled out meetings of the planning and governance committees, plus two full council meetings scheduled for later this month.
A recent survey of 243 English councils revealed that 83 per cent said they would be very likely or fairly likely to conduct meetings online or as a hybrid meeting once the coronavirus emergency was over if they had the power.