Conwy Council sets out plans to re-start meetings in person from September

A COUNCIL has set out its roadmap to restarting in-person committees from September, as two-in-five councillors complain about “significant internet issues”.

Conwy county council’s democratic services committee reviewed the draft strategy for “hybrid” gatherings when it met on Monday this week.

It is something Welsh Government has written into law, meaning councils have a duty to give members the choice to attend in person or via remote connection.

However, for those councillors who are hankering after some back and forth debate in the chamber, meetings will still be vastly different to those pre-pandemic.

For instance the council chamber at the authority’s base in Bodlondeb, Conwy, will not see more than 15 councillors able to attend at present because of social distancing guidelines.

It was designed to hold all 59 members plus officers, translator, media, public and support staff.

The remainder of any committees or full council meetings will still have to attend from home, meaning group leaders will have to select between one and four councillors to attend live depending on its size.

Only committees with 12 members would be able to meet up with a full complement under the new guidelines.

Cllr Goronwy Edwards said the authority needed to “make more of an effort to open buildings up that we own”.

He added: “We should have the option to work from home or use the council facilities.”

Cllr Nigel Williams said he was a fan of online meetings, which had enabled people to attend who perhaps otherwise may have found it difficult in person.

He said: “We need to note the benefits of online meetings and don’t look back, always look forwards.”

The authority’s head of law and governance, Rhun ap Gareth, “hopefully meetings would start as hybrid from September”.

Councillors who access hybrid committees remotely will have to make sure they can be seen on camera, their backgrounds are appropriate, the door to any room they are in is secure and they are on their own when logging on for meetings.

Conwy was at the forefront of those local authorities in Wales who adapted to lockdown restrictions, whilst trying to maintain democratic accountability.

It started broadcasting most gatherings last May and now makes sure all committees which are supposed to be open to the public are available to watch live on YouTube, with simultaneous translation.

However connectivity has been an issue for some members with Cllr Peter Lewis outlining how he was cut out a North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority meeting, which he chairs, for 25 minutes last week.

For other members missing the eyeball to eyeball interaction with colleagues and officers is also an issue, according to a survey of councillors, which followed up a similar study in November last year.

It also showed 40 per cent of members encountering “significant internet issues” and the same percentage worried about the scheduling of back-to-back meetings.

More than half (52.5 per cent) said they were “happy” or “very happy” with the way remote meetings work, around a third said they were “ok” and 15% were not impressed with them.

More than half of councillors surveyed (52.5 per cent) felt working from home wasn’t beneficial to making better contributions in meetings.

North Wales Pioneer | Llandudno