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Councillors voting in an online meeting

Continuing with online meetings beyond the coronavirus crisis could create a more diverse set of councillors, the leader of Lichfield District Council has said.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many councils to switch sessions online while in-person gatherings were unable to take place.

But Cllr Doug Pullen, leader of Lichfield District Council, says continuing to allow members to connect remotely to meetings would not only increase transparency of decision-making, but that it also had the potential to create a more representative group of councillors.

“The real transformative powers of retaining broadcast remote-meetings lies in how this shift could affect the demographic of our next cohort of councillors.

“As a young-ish leader with a family and a full-time job, I’m unusual in local government. This isn’t because community activism isn’t appealing – it’s the almost daily dash across the country to return for a rigidly-fixed 6pm meeting which is distinctly un-alluring.

“So the role of a councillor typically attracts retirees, the self-employed, small business-owners and MP staffers – and typically excludes those with young families, the nine-to-five-ers, the commuters and the night-workers. 

“We need a better mix of all of these types to ensure we can live up to the mantra of being ‘representatives of our community’, which trips so easily off our tongues when asked about our work as a councillor.

“Imagine the tectonic-shift in the demographic of our councillors if meetings could be attended by video-call from your toy-strewn living room, your office in another city, your work canteen, or the 17.43 Euston to Lichfield Trent Valley train?

“Imagine how quickly our annual group photos will change to include more females, younger members, more BAME councillors – and how that will positively impact our decision-making processes?”

Cllr Doug Pullen, Lichfield District Council

Councillor attendance rates have “shot up”

As well as offering potential improvements in future, Cllr Pullen said the impact of online meetings was reaping rewards in the present too.

The Conservative leader said attendance by councillors at meetings had “shot up” since the switch to digital sessions took place.

Doug Pullen

And he said the council needed to think hard about whether it wanted to fall back into old ways of work rather than embracing the opportunities provided by online tools.

“While the private sector has been hosting digital meetings for nigh on two decades, the ‘compelling event’ never arrived for local government to make the shift.

“Our officers all worked in one building, the councillors attended the chamber for our meetings, and requests for conference calls involved someone putting their phone in the middle of the room on loudspeaker.

“Well, the compelling event has arrived now – and the arguments to maintain some of the provisions of the Coronavirus Act beyond 7th May 2021 are impossible to ignore.

“Here in leafy, largely uncontentious Lichfield district, with a population of around 130,000, we have had over 3,000 views of our 15 Zoom meetings, which have been streamed live via YouTube.

“Intrigue and novelty no doubt have played a part in these numbers, but we are seeing the numbers hold steady, and far in excess of the two or three politicos that would usually turn up our meetings in the chamber.

“Our attendance rates by councillors has shot up too, with virtually no apologies sent in so far, compared to a usual turnout figure of 80%.”

“So councillor attendance rates are up and there’s increased public engagement. There’s also a reduction in our carbon foot-print, improvements in record-keeping and greater transparency.

“Amongst the many painful jolts of COVID, this is one which I warmly embrace.”

Cllr Doug Pullen, Lichfield District Council

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  1. As long as you include the digitally disadvantaged and learn from the exclusion of your colleague who was shielding and unable to join online meetings.

  2. I see the MP was fully supporting this on the Tweets and got a thumbs up from a Cllr who said LDC was “leading the way”.

    He might be right…apart from that one time when they failed to count hands properly and a vote was reversed…or that one time when an experienced councillor was singled out in a LDC for his lack of IT skills and subsequently felt forced to resign…or that one time when a senior councillor used a video meeting to make entirely false and misleading claims about this website and the people who run it…or that one time when councillors were told to stop trying to call extra meetings over particular issues…or that one time when LDC decided not to consult anybody and made a ridiculous set of changes to disabled parking in the city overnight (even failing to listen to the disabled right body that LDC actually supported the moves)…

    Just as the PM is so happy to proclaim us as “world leaders” when the evidence is strongly biased towards the contrary, so our local Conservatives like to claim LDC is leading the way into a brave new world when the evidence suggests they are simply lurching from one cock up to the next.

    We are so lucky.
    Don’t you all feel lucky?
    I feel so lucky I could puke.

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