Virtual council meetings in Southend could become the ‘new normal’

Remote meetings streamed over the internet could become the new normal for Southend Council as it moves to minimise risks to councillors.

The first meeting, which was closed to the public, was held on Thursday evening and said to be a success.

Next week the council will hold the first remote meeting open to the public and Councillor Martin Terry (Ind), who oversees public safety, said he expects it could become the “new normal”.

He said: “One thing that won’t go away is physical distancing. Our lives are going to change in all kinds of ways and I think this will be the new normal.

“The fact is the science even says that even if they get a vaccine it won’t be available for some time because they need to scale up and produce it. That will take some time, a minimum of six months, probably 12 months.

“Physical distancing will be the norm and we won’t be sitting in committee rooms discussing things.

“If national parliament can do it then Southend Council can. We need to make sure that the business of the town continues, rubbish still needs to be taken out, the streets still need to be cleaned and we’ve got major projects like the football stadium to push on with, Queensway regeneration and Seaway Leisure.”

Cllr Terry further expressed hope that the virtual meetings may help to remove some of the more theatrical debates that can lead to party politics taking precedent over the real issues at hand.

“As an independent I don’t like party politics, particularly when it is confrontational rather than being about getting business done.

“I don’t want arguments I want the best solutions which is what we should be aspiring to do, so it might well be that this new normal is better.”

Councillor Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “It is important that we keep essential business going and ensure that local decision making is open and transparent.

“I am pleased that these new arrangements are in place which ensure we can do just this, but also recognises this is a very new situation we find ourselves in and support and understanding will be needed as we move forwards.”

The council has confirmed its first meeting which will allow the public to stream live will be the Audit Committee due to be held on April 29.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter