Harrogate Council could hold virtual meetings in bid to carry on business during Covid-19

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Harrogate Borough Council is making moves to hold its meetings virtually as the government looks to push through emergency laws to keep councils functioning through the coronavirus crisis.

It comes after a series of measures were announced by Local Government Secretary of State, MP Robert Jenrick , including advice on how council meetings could look moving forward as the nation adjusts to a new norm in lockdown.

Now, Harrogate's local authority is looking at what technology it can use to bring its councillors together to make key decisions on its services - after all of its upcoming meetings were cancelled until further notice.

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However, the virtual meetings will not be live-streamed to the public after councillors previously said that webcasting would be too expensive.

Harrogate Borough Council is making moves to hold its meetings virtually to keep functioningthrough the coronavirus crisis.Harrogate Borough Council is making moves to hold its meetings virtually to keep functioningthrough the coronavirus crisis.
Harrogate Borough Council is making moves to hold its meetings virtually to keep functioningthrough the coronavirus crisis. | jpimedia

A spokesperson for Harrogate Borough Council said: "We think this is a helpful step forward as it means we can continue to make decisions and get the democracy process going again.

"We now need to make sure we get a suitable technical solution in place (no, not live streaming) and then test it.

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"We think think this will take a couple of weeks by which time, the legislation will have been introduced."

The government has confirmed that routine Care Quality Commission inspections will be temporarily suspended during the Covid-19 outbreak, while they also said Ofsted would ‘look very favourably’ on any requests to defer inspections.

Mr Jenrick’s announcement said Westminster would also consider bringing forward legislation to remove the requirement for annual council meetings to take place in person.

The annual council meetings usually take place in May.

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Meanwhile, the deadline for local government financial audits will be extended to September 30, and councils will be able to use their discretion on deadlines for Freedom of Information requests – meaning many could take longer than the current deadline of 20 working days.

Mr Jenrick said: "As part of the national effort to keep the public safe and deliver essential public services, this government stands with local councils at this difficult time.

"My absolute priority is to ensure they are well placed to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services, including social care.

"Everyone needs to play their part to help the most vulnerable in society and support their local economy, and the government will do whatever is necessary to support these efforts."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter