To receive an update on the Democratic Governance service recovery workstream of the Gloucester Recovery Plan.
10.1 The Cabinet Member for Performance & Resources Councillor Norman introduced the item and highlighted key elements. She expressed her thanks to the IT and Democratic & Electoral Services teams for the work they had carried out in implementing virtual meetings following the restrictions which had been put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that the steps which had been taken regarding IT as part of the Transformation Programme including rolling out laptops and Office 365 for both staff members and Members had been an advantage, and meant that the Council had been able to use Microsoft Teams for Virtual Council and Committee Meetings amongst other things. Councillor Norman then explained that taking into account the second national lockdown which was due to come into place on Thursday 5th of November, the Council did not have the ability to move forward with any proposals for hybrid meetings at the time being. The Policy & Governance Manager echoed her thanks to the IT and Democratic & Electoral Services teams and particularly the CIVICA IT Service Manager, and the Democratic & Electoral Services Team Leader.
10.2 The Chair stated that the guidance on hybrid meetings was unclear. Moreover, they added that the experience amongst some local authorities and organisations who had implemented hybrid meetings was that they were difficult to manage.
10.3 Councillor Stephens also thanked the IT and Democratic and Electoral Services teams. Further, he also expressed his concerns about hybrid meetings, suggesting that they were a disadvantage for those attending the meetings virtually. On the other hand, Councillor Stephens outlined that he wished to see remote working and the webcasting of Committee and Council meetings made a permanent feature at the City Council beyond the pandemic. He added that he had received positive comments from people who had watched the virtual meetings, and overall, the view was that the meetings had increased democratic participation. Councillor Coole agreed with the ongoing role of remote working and virtual meetings, noting that virtual meetings had made Council meetings more accessible to members of the public who may ordinarily not be able to attend the meetings.
10.4 On the topic of hybrid meetings, Councillor Norman advised that there were uncertainties within the legislation, and, at this moment in time the Council would not be implementing hybrid meetings. Furthermore, Councillor Norman responded to Councillor Stephens and Councillor Haigh ‘s comments as follows. Firstly, regarding webcasting she advised that the potential benefits of webcasting were being weighed up against the financial investment required, particularly at a time when Gloucester City Council like other local authorities faced added financial pressures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, responding to Councillor Haigh ‘s comments around the potential limitations of Microsoft Teams, Councillor Norman explained that Microsoft Teams had been selected as the best option for delivering virtual meetings at the time as a system that was already available due to the existing Office 365 license. She added that if working from home was extended into the future, the Council would perhaps look at other options for delivering virtual meetings, however, as previously outlined the Council was mindful of budget pressures. Thirdly, Councillor Norman agreed that certain types of meetings particularly smaller Group meetings were better suited to meeting in-person, however, this was not currently possible.
10.5 In response to Councillor Hilton ‘s submission on implementing webcasting , Councillor Norman reiterated that Cabinet was looking into this and taking into account budget pressures. Responding to Councillor Pullen, she echoed her earlier comments on hybrid meetings outlining that it was not known what would happen to the legislation, and thus, the position was not clear. For the time being, the Council would not be implementing hybrid meetings. However, if the legislation permitted hybrid meetings, the Council would need to undertake a detailed analysis. Lastly, she noted that there were potential positives and negatives to hybrid meetings, and they were not being ruled out completely
10.6 RESOLVED that: - the Overview & Scrutiny Committee RECOMMEND that Cabinet implement the technology to allow webcasting once Council returns to physical meetings.