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John Austin, Helen McGrath: Lack of remote meetings will frustrate new advisers

Legislation allowing remote meetings will open up local democracy, write the president of the Association of Democratic Services Officers and public affairs manager at Lawyers in Local Government.

Across the country, most councils and councilors are gearing up for local elections next week. In this context, preparations are well advanced for the recruitment of new advisers to replace those who have been defeated or who did not stand for re-election. Some councils anticipate more than 33% new members, maybe more.

John Austin, president, Association of Democratic Service Officers; Helen McGrath, Public Affairs Manager, Lawyers in Local Government

Planning for the induction of new councilors and the annual council will be at the forefront of the minds of many council leaders and general managers.

These are exciting times, when serving advisors return with renewed enthusiasm and newly elected advisors begin their role as representatives with energy and high expectations of what they can accomplish. Overseers and governance professionals have a responsibility to match that energy and respond directly to those expectations. Otherwise, new members will quickly become disillusioned, isolated and at worst feel marginalized.

Confusion and frustration

It is therefore so disappointing that the Government has still not responded to the call for evidence on local authority remote meetings held from March to June 2021. The case for remote meetings has been strongly defended by our two associations, by councils at all levels, by local authorities and by organizations such as Mumsnet.

Giving councils the choice to meet remotely empowers our councilors to be modern, high-performing community leaders

Next month, councils will welcome a new cohort of ambitious, forward-thinking advisors who want to be the most efficient and productive representatives possible, with the most modern facilities available to them. Imagine their confusion and frustration when they realize that in the digital age, the ability to harness new technologies to host meetings in flexible and innovative ways and to promote ease of access and engagement of the public is not an option as it is in almost every other sector of our society, including Parliament, as well as in Wales and Scotland.

Citizens expect their representatives to prioritize their community leadership role as ward councillors. This involves being visible, accessible and present in their neighborhoods. We also know that members very often juggle between being an adviser, having a salaried job, having a family and (even) a social life.

Local choice

If we are to be inclusive and to recruit and retain a diverse and effective cohort of councillors, in addition to ensuring local government democracy open to all members of our communities, then every step must be taken to create the conditions for this to happen. produce.

Giving councils the choice to meet remotely empowers our councilors to be modern, high-performing community leaders. We advocate this local choice. We are not trying to impose remote meetings on everyone.

Such meetings also have a positive environmental impact by limiting costly and harmful travel, a real challenge for large municipalities whose elected officials are dispersed or have difficulty getting around.

Just under 11,000 people have signed our petition for remote meetings, and councils across the country have endorsed our motion for remote meetings as an option.

They, like us, believe in a strong and modern local democracy, accessible to all. This is what local government wants and deserves for its councilors and communities. But it is also in everyone’s interest that these meetings run smoothly.

That is why we are once again calling on the government to pass the necessary legislation to make remote meetings an option and to engage with us to agree a robust governance framework within which these meetings can operate in a effective and efficient. This, after all, is what a modern local democracy should look like.

John Austin, president, Association of Democratic Service Officers; Helen McGrath, Public Affairs Manager, Lawyers in Local Government

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