Public and press excluded from Redbridge Council decision-making

A Redbridge Council meeting to discuss housing matters was made behind closed doors after public meetings were suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.

A tweet suggested that councillors held a Skype meeting that excluded the public and press, despite the council insisting it was still “looking into the use of technology” to hold remote meetings.

Cllr Howard Berlin (Con: Fairlop) tweeted on Monday: “Just had Skype Redbridge Council meeting on housing. Well done @FarahKHussain and @RedbridgeLive for organising this so well.”

Asked about the Skype meeting, a Redbridge Council spokesperson said “councillors meet all the time” and it was not a public meeting.

They claimed decisions regarding the coronavirus response were being made without meetings, while all other decisions were being deferred.

Campaign account @IlfordNoise responded to Cllr Berlin on Twitter: “We #IlfordSouth residents have been asking for tech-enabled real-time council democracy for ages.

“Now it serves your purpose to exclude us from the decision-making process using the same tech!”

It is illegal for a “decision-making body” in local government to exclude the public from a meeting unless it risks disclosing confidential or exempt information or to maintain order.

The Local Government Act 1972 also states a quarter of the council must be physically present to make decisions, although the Coronavirus Bill passed on March 25 may allow this to change.

A Redbridge Council spokesperson said: “The leader, cabinet and council officers are doing everything possible to slow down the rate of infection and protect lives across Redbridge.

“For this reason the decision has been taken to suspend public council meetings. We are looking into the use of technology to hold meetings remotely.

“Current legislation requires a minimum number of councillors to be physically present at meetings for decision making to take place.

“We are awaiting necessary legislative changes and will then finalise arrangements to make meetings both safe and accessible.”

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter