Fears Portsmouth council chamber will be a 'hotbed' for Covid infections as virtual meeting rules scrapped

PLANS to force local councils to resume face-to-face meetings have been blasted by city officials, accusing government of putting the safety of councillors and the public 'at risk' of Covid-19.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 9:58 pm

The government has confirmed emergency powers to hold virtual meetings using video conferencing - that were granted to councils last year due to the pandemic - will no longer exist as of May 7.

Without them it means councils of all levels will have to return to meetings held in halls and chambers to allow the democratic process to continue, with the virtual alternative no longer allowed.

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The last Portsmouth City Council meeting held in the chamber in 2020 before meetings became virtual during the pandemic

Minister of state for local government, Luke Hall MP, said councils would be 'given the support and guidance they need to do so in a safe and secure way.'

However, the Covid roadmap set out by government only allows groups of up to 30 people to meet outside from May 17 - and MPs will be able to hold remote meetings until June 21.

Portsmouth City Council will be holding its annual general meeting on May 18 at which is it is expected all 42 councillors should attend.

Council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: 'Sometimes our meetings go on for 10 hours and we've got people sitting right next to each other - to me it seems a hotbed for spreading infection.

Portsmouth council leader Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson. Picture: Sarah Standing (191119-2516)

'It would have taken government five minutes to use some common sense and just extend it the powers to not put people at risk.'

His deputy, Cllr Steve Pitt, added: 'Proposing to put everyone including councillors, staff and members of the public into these rooms is unsafe.

'It is also totally disruptive to the democratic process because if someone is high risk they're not going to be able to attend.

'I look forward to seeing a jam-packed House of Commons as of May 7.'

The decision is set to be challenged in court by the Local Government Association (LGA).

Cllr James Jamieson, LGA chairman, said: 'We urge the government to reverse this decision and not force councils to have to hold Covid-19 secure face-to-face council meetings until all restrictions are lifted.'

A spokeswoman for Portsmouth City Council said the authority was 'reviewing the updated guidance on holding public meetings and will confirm its plans in due course.'

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