Portsmouth council looking at how to make face-to-face meetings safe after High Court appeal rejected

A COUNCIL is looking into how to safely host face-to-face meetings for the first time in over a year after an appeal was thrown out by the High Court.

By Fiona Callingham
Friday, 30th April 2021, 4:54 pm

Portsmouth City Council is considering relocating meetings in the main hall of the Guildhall and potentially breaking others down into shorter, but more frequent, events in order to reduce the risk of Covid to councillors, staff and the public.

As reported the authority was one of many across the country that had concerns when the government announced virtual council meetings would no longer be allowed beyond May 7.

This was despite lockdown restrictions not easing fully until June 21.

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The last Portsmouth council meeting held in the chamber before meetings became virtual

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An application to reject this made by the Local Government Association to the High Court was unsuccessful this week.

Council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: 'There were real concerns about putting people back in a council chamber and how this could put people at risk from Covid.

'We were initially looking at keeping the virtual meetings going until June 21 if the appeal to High Court was successful but when we got the news that it wasn't we had to quickly look at other ways to keep people safe and keep democracy going.

'As an example, for the mayor making and annual general meeting that are coming up soon we will look at holding them both in the main room of the Guildhall as there is more space for people to be apart. But we likely won't be able to have lots of people there like we usually do.'

He added: 'Virtual meetings were successful during the pandemic. It proved people are able to work from home. And actually attendance rates of councillors were increasing as a result.'

But the initial plans to press ahead with virtual meetings, which have now been scrapped, had come under fire from the city's Conservative group who were concerned it was not legal.

Cosham representative, Cllr Matthew Atkins, said: ‘We hope this means things can proceed as they should now.

‘We were just concerns the proposals that were on the table were putting the council at legal risk.

‘We also think having face-to-face meetings is in the best interest of the people of Portsmouth and democracy.’

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