back to article Jackie 'You have no authority here' Weaver calls on the UK to extend Coronavirus Act provisions for online meetings

Jackie Weaver and BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, have called on the UK government to keep online council meetings legal even as coronavirus restrictions across Britain are eased. Don't pretend you don't know who Jackie Weaver is. For a moment back in February, Weaver was kind of a big deal after an extraordinary meeting …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    There have been instances of councillors leaving the area and not standing down. Remote meetings would facilitate this. It would even hide the fact that this had happened. If this were to be made permanent it should be accompanied by a residency requirement.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      "Remote meetings would facilitate this"

      So would cars, surely. I don't see anyone checking that all attendees of our local PC meetings have walked there. Even if they had, how would you know they hadn't parked in a nearby street?

      If in doubt, just challenge the attendee, in real time, to point their webcam out of one of their windows.

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: "Remote meetings would facilitate this"

        Just to be clear, I'm not saying that local councillors shouldn't have to prove residency (they should) or that meetings can be entirely virtual (On the contrary, I'm sure that the ability to physically attend is required for democratic accountability). I'm just disagreeing with the view that remote attendance is a particular facilitator of non-resident councillors passing themselves off as resident: that's a problem that needs addressing anyway.

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Why, tho?

        The democratic view is clearly that Dr Syntax (with whom I normally agree) is right on this issue and I am wrong ... But I'm still struggling to see why. Surely a Parish Council meeting can be heard by anyone, and anyone within the Parish may speak (at the appropriate time).

        If remote attendance allows councillors who should be ex-councillors to masquerade as locals that seems to suggest there's a deeper problem. I don't see Zoom, etc, making that significantly worse. If anything, it's going to make it better as more people "attending" is surely going to increase the likelihood of someone knowing, and saying, "Hold on a minute, haven't you moved to Malta?"

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: Why, tho?

          I agree with both of you. I don't see the contradiction!

        2. druck Silver badge

          Re: Why, tho?

          The problem we had wasn't with councillors moving away, but with those living locally failing to turn up. Attendance by some was abysmal, but at least with online meetings people would be able to see they weren't there week in week out.

          There was one independent (Liberal Democrat until the coalition) who had a very well organising leafleting campaign opposing just about everything we did, which would get him elected but then didn't turn up for the crucial votes. When talking to people on the doorstep they always said "he does so much for the community", and wouldn't accept that you had to be at meetings to achieve anything.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: "Remote meetings would facilitate this"

        John,

        There have been reports that a few local councillors have ceased to reside anywhere near the local area - such as the other end of the country. Such egregious examples are noticeable because they can't turn up for any meetings. It's not a question of pretending to walk to meetings as I'm sure that, at least in rural areas, that would be the exception anyway.

        1. John H Woods Silver badge

          Re: "Remote meetings would facilitate this"

          Dr S: That explains our difference of perspective - where I live the issues in our PC and the surrounding PCs would tend to be more of the kind that someone lives in the next village down the road (aka "far flung foreign lands") although it doesn't take long for everyone to find out.

          I do live in the sort of area where people walk to the PC meeting and (in happier times) to the pub afterwards, and I forget this is the exception rather than the rule.

          Perhaps the first order of all PC business should be an affirmation that all councillors, and any members of the public who intend to speak, have a legitimate local interest.

          It would also be nice if local democracy was responsible for anything at all apart from arguing over the siting of dog poo bins and planning permission for a skate park, but hey-ho, we love to vote for politicians who promise us decentralisation and deliver the opposite.

    2. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Let's have the residency aspect for MPs as well, n years before any election.

    3. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      There have been numerous examples of MPs getting elected to constituencies that are hundreds of miles away from their homes and have never visited.

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge

        I want to stand for Dunny-in-the-Wold.

        1. Scott Broukell

          Shirley that would mean you being elected as a privy councilor ?

          1. Scott Broukell

            You would also need to be very carefull when you logged on. But I guess you would be flushed with success if you were to be elected and please do take care with those parish papers!

        2. Great Bu

          As long as you ensure that all of the opposition accidentally brutally cut their own heads off whilst combing their hair you should be a shoe-in......

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Yeah, but that is typical State-level shenanigans.

        I live in France, so I don't have a voice in this issue, but I'll be damned if I accept my village council being managed by someone from another village.

        It's the village council. It's supposed to be managed by people from that village.

        1. BrownishMonstr

          It's a Village Council, for the Village. Strangers aren't welcome here.

          1. Citizen99

            As the wife described Wiltshire villages of her ancestors - ' eave a brick at 'im

    4. Caver_Dave Silver badge

      There is a requirement to live or work within 3 miles of the parish, in amongst all the other rules.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "If this were to be made permanent it should be accompanied by a residency requirement."

      There are requirements such as this already. You are also eligible to stand in the area if you work in it. The one to watch is having an interest in land in the area. You can rent a garage in a local authority area and stand for election there as a result.

  2. Caver_Dave Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Parish Council Chairman

    As a Parish Council Chairman, I whole-heartedly support the action to retain the option for remote meetings in the short term. Some of my Councillors have been shielding and do no want to suddenly jump into a real meeting. I must say that I'm not too happy about the prospect either.

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: Parish Council Chairman

      As a Parish Council Chairman, I whole-heartedly support the action to retain the option for remote meetings in the short term.

      Disclosure: I am a Parish Council Vice Chair... (not Handforth!)

      I wholeheartedly agree with your view. The main point is that while the provision for remote meetings expires on 7th May Councils cannot meet in person for a month or two thereafter because of other parts of the Coronavirus Regulations, meaning that unless other provisions are made before 7th May Council business (and not just Parish Councils) must grind to a halt because there would be no authority for bills to be paid and so on. It is likely that Parish Clerks will be granted (by their Councillors) some considerable freedom of action so that normal day to day Council business can carry on without disruption.

      Reportedly extending the current provision would require primary legislation, but while not being a lawyer I would have thought that a one line Bill would be all that was necessary, but what do I know...

      The situation that we are about to find ourselves in appears to be highly unsatisfactory.

      1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

        Re: Parish Council Chairman

        I am also in one of the 8999 Parish Councils that is not Handforth

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Parish Council Chairman

        The business managers in Parliament have decided there's no time or appetite to introduce primary legislation.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Don't pretend you don't know who Jackie Weaver is ..."

    I was rather amused to get a V. day card from my wife which read "I love you more than Jackie Weaver loves throwing people out of Zoom meetings"

  4. Barrie Shepherd

    By all means 'extend' it for a short time but with a sunset clause no later than May 2022.

    The arguments about serving 'local democracy better', 'reducing impact on the environment' etc. are somewhat fatuous masks for removing the cut and thrust of personal face to face argument in local matters. If allowed to continue indefinably local politics will resort to inaccessible politicians, who may not even be residents, making local decisions in a compromised video environment moderated by self appointed Clerks.

    The right for members of the public to attend, in person, council meetings (of any type) should be retained as sacrosanct, this cannot be served by video conferencing where a potentially biased individual holds the Mute button and can remove opposition views from being heard or propagated.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      @Barrie Shepherd

      I agree one hundred percent, many councils have a penchant for closed meetings that for one reason or another they consider 'sensitive' and online facilitates that attitude.

      Councils are elected and paid for by the residents, no matter where the money comes from and local politics even more than national should be completely open.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      By all means 'extend' it for a short time

      I may have lost track here, but there aren't there two issues?

      (a) extending the permissions for virtual attendance at meetings (ideally indefinitely)

      (b) removing the possibility of solely virtual meetings (once practicable)

      1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

        Re: By all means 'extend' it for a short time

        Live streaming was performed by some larger Parish and Town Councils before the pandemic.

        In my Parish we have never offered it as we've only had "standing room only" on 3 occasions in the last 10 years.

        I have recorded the Zoom meetings though, and it's a very good resource when checking the clerks minutes, and anyone can by law record the meetings, physical or virtual.

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      The right for members of the public to attend, in person, council meetings (of any type) should be retained as sacrosanct

      That's a good point.

      1. Pete B

        Agree, but there should also be the ability for people to view the meeting online, even if they're not actively taking part.

        1. Commswonk Silver badge

          Agree, but there should also be the ability for people to view the meeting online...

          I cannot speak for any council other than my own, but in our case the (Zoom) link is available for anyone with a legitimate case for having it, i.e. local residents. AFAIK none have ever asked for it (or found it on our website on the meeting agenda) - I have no recollection of any members of the puiblic viewing an on - line meeting, much less taking the opportunity offered at every meeting for "public participation".

          As an aside there are significant variations in how well individuals "perform". Those with desktops or laptops are by and large OK; those with tablets or smartphones seem to be rather less than satisfactory. Perhaps it isn't really all that surprising.

          Another perpetual annoyance is those who shuffle things in the background, not realising that their microphone picks everything up and puts it in the foreground. :(

          1. Boothy Silver badge

            I don't use Zoom, but we have Teams at work, and I've used the mute option against specific other attendees, on more than one occasion, due to the amount of background noise they were generating!

            Most of us don't use video, so I suspect they'd wondered off to make a cuppa or something, and so couldn't hear us saying "Please use mute if your not speaking".

            At least Teams (and I would assume others) flash the border around the attendees name/icon, so you can see where the noise is coming from.

        2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

          In my Parish the meeting details are on the printed agenda that is placed into the Parish Council notice boards (we are two villages) at least 4 days before the meeting. Usually on the Friday so that everyone has a chance to look over the weekend, before the Wednesday meeting.

          We often have non councillors attend, usually to complain, but that is beside the point. They get their 3 minutes of "Public time" at the start of the meeting, and I will usually ask the meeting's permission to move the relevant agenda item to the front of the queue. It gets discussed in their presence and as by standard procedures (in any meetings) they only get to speak again to answer a direct question from a councillor routed through me as the chairman. Then they all bugger off, and we never have anyone viewing the boring, every month work of the Parish Council.

    4. Commswonk Silver badge

      ...moderated by self appointed Clerks.

      In real terms that would be highly unusual; the vast majority of Clerks are Council employees who work to agreed standards and have their own professional body.

      1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

        And have to undergo a continuous development program (you know, like the vast majority of respondents on here don't, judging from many years of reading the posts on professionalism in IT and software.)

        Our clerk works part-time for us and part-time for another parish, and so we can at least share the training costs.

  5. Phones Sheridan
    Facepalm

    In other news...

    And on the same day, the guy she ejected from the meeting gives an interview to ITV news, and still maintains Jackie Weaver had no authority!

    You have no authority here Jackie Weaver!

  6. Stephen Wilkinson

    The LGA want this extended too

    https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/lga-statement-virtual-council-meeting-powers-not-being-extended

  7. YARR
    Megaphone

    Virtual protests?

    So if the holders of politial power are moving to online meetings, does the same apply to their minions? How effective would an online protest be if everyone who wants to protest joins the same online meeting, but no-one else hears them? Do protests have to be disruptive? How do you legally cause disruption online?

  8. Andy McMullin

    Country broadband

    A frustration here is that our part of rural Devon has cr@p broadband. Virtual meetings mean many of us cannot attend, or can only attend each meeting intermittently (while the broadband works before contention drops the speed too low). The parish council is then only for the “haves” not the “have nots” and just adds to the divisiveness. Our broadband speed stops zoom and its reliability makes online ordering slow and full of retries.

    And to register our complaint or add our input to the government survey of poor rural broadband - what must you do? Go to a web page!!

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