Council U-turn on streaming ‘informal’ meetings

Enfield Council finally issues statement a week after row over cancelled meetings began, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Enfield Council has announced what appears to be a partial U-turn on its new arrangements for “informal” meetings.

A council spokesperson said the authority “will stream any meeting if there is a request to do so”, claiming this is in line with arrangements it has made in the past.

In an email sent to councillors before Christmas, director of law and governance Jeremy Chambers said many meetings scheduled for January would be held informally and, although they would take place virtually using MS Teams, they “will not be broadcast”.

The measures, which came in response to rising cases of Covid-19 in the borough and the absence of government legislation to allow formal online meetings, were condemned by opposition councillors, who said the public should be allowed access.

On Tuesday, 11th January, the council spokesperson said: “Meetings have been moved from a formal, in-person basis to an online informal (because that is all the law allows us to do) format. These informal meetings will continue to be supported by officers, with the normal elected members invited to attend. There will be an agenda and papers, and notes will still be taken.

“Chairs of committees have been asked if they need the meeting to go ahead online or if they prefer to reschedule for a later date and have the meeting in person. Each chair will consult with members of their committee in making their decision.

“We will stream any meeting if there is a request to do so, in line with arrangements we have made in the past.”

At time of going to press, documents for the finance and performance scrutiny panel held on Thursday, 6th January, had not been published on Enfield Council’s website. Similarly, papers for the environment and climate action scrutiny panel scheduled for Tuesday night (11th January) had not been made public. Links to allow the public to watch the meetings were available.

According to the council spokesperson, council leader Nesil Caliskan and Conservative opposition leader Joanne Laban “discussed the matter of in-person meetings before Christmas and agreed the council should minimise the risk of holding meetings in person, given the high infection rates of Covid-19 and the government guidance that people should work from home if possible”.

Responding to the comment, Cllr Laban said she had agreed that two meetings due to be held shortly before Christmas should be cancelled because at that time not all councillors had been given the chance to get their booster jab. However, she said she had not supported the move to hold January meetings on an informal basis.

Last week, Barnet Council announced meetings were “proceeding as planned with Covid controls in place”, adding that the press and public “will be able to attend as normal but are asked to observe any Covid measures in place at Hendon Town Hall”.

A Haringey Council spokesperson said virtual meetings will be held “where possible”, with councillors “pulling together draft recommendations” for decisions to be made at a subsequent meeting.

They added: “When it comes to big meetings like full council and cabinet, we will still be holding them in person and will be restricting numbers where possible. Members of the public and press will still be invited to attend and will be observing social distancing guidelines.”

An agenda and reports for a “briefing” of Haringey Council’s overview and scrutiny committee scheduled for 13th January, which will be held online via MS Teams, have been published.