Local government supports flexible working to improve diversity and save money

The vast majority of councilors want to return to a hybrid system for local authority meetings (Alamy)

Alain Tolhurst

2 minute read

Exclusive: A large majority of local councilors support a return to hybrid meetings, saying it will improve diversity in local government and save money.

The County Councils Network (CCN) is urging the government to allow people to attend meetings remotely again after legislation allowing it expires during the pandemic.

The body, which represents England’s largest local councils, surveyed nearly 500 councilors in conjunction with Zoom, and found a strong appetite for the choice between online and in-person meetings.

They also said allowing virtual meetings could have environmental benefits, pointing out that one councilor said he travels 1,000 miles a year to attend council meetings in person.

A total of 87% of respondents agreed that they would like their council to be able to adopt a hybrid setup in the future, while 72% of respondents from the 36 local authorities represented by SCC said it could attract more youth, ethnic minorities, and women to stand for local elections.

Of councilors who had care responsibilities, nine in ten said a hybrid model would allow them to better balance their role with local government and the rest of their lives, while eight in ten without care responsibilities said that a hybrid model would provide a better counselor-life balance.

Legislation allowing local authorities to hold virtual meetings was in the Coronavirus Act 2020 but expired in May 2021. While the government had previously pledged to reintroduce it, the bill was absent from the speech of the queen last week, which sets out their program for the next year.

Councilor Julian German, rural spokesperson for the CCN, said: ‘One of the most defining features of the first lockdown was the rise of videoconferencing, and councils have embraced this technology, disrupting the way they operate almost overnight with virtual meetings.

“While advisors will always want to be able to meet, discuss and review in person, when reflecting on the lessons learned from the past two years, there are clear advantages to boards offering a hybrid model.

“There is a clear consensus that hybrid meetings could open the door to attracting a younger, more diverse set of counselors who can effectively balance their counseling and caregiving or employment responsibilities. “

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