York Council clarifies short term policy on face-to-face meetings

National guidance on council meetings updated

Pressure is growing on the York Council to make its position clear on when a return to public decision making using an all party committee system will be considered. A similar proposal in Sheffield received majority public support in a referendum last week.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last local elections promised to introduce such a system and local Green Party Councillors – who form part of the ruling coalition in York – also say they favour a the modern committee system option.

Although the Labour and Tory groups apparently favour retaining the “winner takes all” Executive system, they are currently in a minority on the York Council.

So what is stopping the leadership from getting moving on the issue?

Separately the Council has announced which meetings will be “in person” over the coming couple of months. All party “scrutiny” meetings will still be held virtually (via zoom) which is a shame given that they are the only real debating forums for many issues.

Some of the more obscure Executive decision meetings attract little public interest though so perhaps the Council is right to try to conduct them “on-line”. Such meetings often last for less than 10 minutes.

City of York Council say that they are putting in place plans to accommodate the national ruling on the future of council meetings.

Following the ruling of the high court, from Friday 7 May, all council decision making meetings will be held in person, with some non-decision making meetings continuing virtually.  Whilst the guidance means meetings will need to be held in person, the council will be putting in place measures to ensure meetings are conducted in a covid safe environment, including allowing for appropriate social distancing.

Over May and June, the following meetings will be take place in person:
•    Annual Council: 27 May, 11am
•    Executive: 20 May, 5.30pm
•    Planning Committee: 17 June (provisional), 4.30pm
•    Area Planning Sub-Committee: 13 May, 4.30pm; 26 May, 4.30pm; 10 June, 4.30pm
•    Licensing Committee: 8 June (provisional), 5.30pm

The below meetings will continue virtually to consider making recommendations before any decision is made.

Executive Member Decision Sessions:
•    Finance and Performance – 14 June, 10am
•    Health and Adult Social Care – 16 June, 10am
•    Housing and Safer Neighbourhoods – 17 June (provisional), 10am 

•    Economy and Place – 25 May, 7pm
•    Customer and Corporate – 14 June, 5.30pm

This format will be in place for May and June, and will be reviewed from July onwards, following further guidance on the roadmap after 21st June.

Public participation in relevant meetings will be allowed in person, and by phone for those wishing to dial-in. In addition to the relevant councillors and officers, meetings will have a space for public speakers to attend, and a cleaner will be present to wipe down any surfaces they come into contact with between each speaker. The safety of members of the public, along with officers and councillors, is of paramount importance.

Those wishing to speak at public meetings will need to register their interest a minimum of 2 working days in advance, this can be done online here. If you would like to attend a meeting in person, along with registering to speak, it is recommended that you should take a symptom-free covid test in the 24 hours before the meeting. If your result is positive you should immediately self-isolate and follow the process for confirming your results.

Councillor Keith Aspden, Leader of the Council, said:

With national guidance changing, council meetings will continue to be delivered in a safe way, as to provide local residents, businesses and organisations the opportunity to engage in the Council’s decision making process.

“We would still encourage anyone looking to share their thoughts at public meetings to follow the usual procedure to register and have their say.”

Sharon Stoltz, Director of Public Health, said:

As we move through the steps of the roadmap to recovery more elements of life will ‘return to normal’. It is still essential that we all remember that covid is still very much a part of our lives, and we must continue to follow hands, face, space and fresh air to help stop the spread. I would strongly encourage everyone to regularly take part in symptom-free testing, especially as more people will be leaving their household much more often.

The council will share further information about the plans for future meetings, including the planned Full Council meeting taking place in May, soon.