One-off Portsmouth council meeting to cost taxpayers £5,000 for new cameras and microphones
TAXPAYERS will have to foot a £5,000 bill for new equipment to allow a one-off council meeting to take place next week, due to Covid rules.
As reported, the government controversially decided not to allow virtual council meetings to continue past May 17 - despite concerns from authorities and the Local Government Association.
In light of this Portsmouth City Council is holding its annual general meeting in the auditorium of the Guildhall to allow councillors to sit two metres apart.
New microphones and cameras have been purchased so it can be broadcast online as usual.
Council leader Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson previously spoke out against the decision to scrap virtual meetings.
He said: 'Personally I think it would be less risky if we held a virtual meeting.
'It would also save taxpayers' money as we have had to pay for microphones and cameras for a one-off meeting.'
Labour group leader, Cllr George Fielding, agreed.
'I think it was short-sighted to end virtual meetings when clearly there is still a risk out there,' he said.
'The expense for the equipment is one that wasn't needed at a time when we need to claw back money after the pandemic.'
And Progressive Portsmouth People leader, Cllr Claire Udy, added: ‘As the government is the one who changed the law and imposes social distancing for safety they should clearly reimburse us for attempting to have democracy out in public again.’
However, newly elected Conservative leader Cllr Matt Atkins said: ‘The administration is responsible for the spending on these issues. I am surprised they needed to incur that one off cost for the meeting.
‘I think it’s important to go back to in-person meetings. Firstly it is a legal requirement and it's better access for the public because online meetings had been a challenge for some people.’
The equipment will not be used again as cabinet meetings and committee meetings – that are smaller – will be held in the council chamber, which already has microphones and cameras.
The meeting, to be held at 10am on Tuesday, should determine whether the Lib Dems will remain in administration or if a new party takes leadership.
The Tories are now the largest group on the council following the recent local elections with 16 seats, while the Lib Dems have 15.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: 'I don't think any coalitions will be happening. I know the Conservatives will be making a vote of no confidence in the leadership. Labour will have to decide which way they are voting.'
Cllr Fielding said his group was waiting to hear proposals from the Lib Dems before deciding how to vote.
A new lord mayor for Portsmouth is also due to be sworn in on Tuesday.
Resident will be able to attend the meeting however public spaces are limited so they are encouraged to watch the livestream via the council's website.
To book a space email [email protected]