A Burntwood councillor who has been unable to attend meetings because he cannot use technology has not taken up offers of training, Lichfield District Council has confirmed.
Cllr Bernard Brown’s position will be discussed at a meeting of the local authority this evening (14th July).
He has been unable to attend any meetings online since the coronavirus crisis began in March.
The use of IT is not a requirement for people to serve as an elected member, but if councillors do not back a plan to extend the six month rule for non-attendance today, Cllr Brown could be disqualified from the role in September.
Lichfield District Council confirmed to Lichfield Live that advice and training had been offered to Cllr Brown but he had not taken it up.
A report on the issue to be heard at tonight’s meeting says:
“Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cllr Brown has not been able to attend any council or committee meetings since planning committee on 9th March.
“The reason is that he is not able to use IT equipment to attend meetings virtually.
“A formal request has therefore been made for an extension to the six month rule to be approved in this respect.”Report on Cllr Bernard Brown to Lichfield District Council
“Using IT is a choice, it is not a rule”
Cllr Brown – who does not have an email address listed on the local authority’s website – has been receiving print outs of all meeting papers since his election, with the council confirming other members were receiving them by email.
His Labour colleague, Cllr Darren Ennis, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had created “exceptional” issues for Cllr Brown who usually accessed digital services in other ways before the coronavirus crisis.
“Bernard does get emails – he does this at his family’s homes and at the council building.
“Using IT is a choice, it is not a rule. On the councillor application page it doesn’t say ‘you must have the internet, your must come to online meeting in case of a pandemic’. These are exceptional times.
“What if a the person is brilliant in the community but doesn’t want a digital footprint? To be a councillor do they have to give up that belief?
“If a person cannot afford the internet or the devices they should also not be allowed to apply?
“Putting technological limits in will restrict who can be a councillor – and I think that is wrong.”Cllr Darren Ennis, Lichfield District Council
Members of Lichfield District Council had previously had access to an allowance of £430 per year for technology, phone lines and broadband.
But a decision was made in 2015 to remove the separate payment and allow it to be amalgamated into the overall basic allowance for councillors – a figure which stood at £4,214 a year per councillor last year.
“The allowance is sufficient to buy a basic tablet”
Cllr Joanne Grange, an independent member of the council, questioned Cllr Ennis’ view on the affordability of technology.
“I’m not sure the financial argument is valid – there used to be a separate allowance paid for IT, but this was wrapped up into councillor allowances to provide the funds for councillors to be connected.
“The first month of the allowance is sufficient to buy a basic tablet and more than sufficient in subsequent months to cover internet connectivity.”Cllr Joanne Grange, Lichfield District Council