A councillor has called for a review to ensure decision-making at Lichfield District Council is not disrupted by technical problems during online meetings.

It comes after a gathering of the planning committee was debating an application for a development at Drayton Bassett yesterday (8th March).

Cllr Steve Norman said technical issues during the online meeting meant parts of it could not be heard by those taking part or listening in.

The Labour group leader – who is not a member of the planning committee but was watching online – said the council could not risk having to delay decisions because of problems with technology.

Cllr Steve Norman
Cllr Steve Norman

“While planning applications have been deferred for good planning reasons recently it is hard to see how future virtual meetings can carry on.

“Obviously, it is important that members make decisions based on planning reasons and that they follow the debate fully – but let’s be honest, no one can enforce that. 

“Last night, the applicant’s agent had three brief breaks in his presentation but was not asked to repeat what was missed and the council’s environmental and health officer was not given a second chance to try again or offered the opportunity to join by telephone.

“There is no way you can guarantee every member is paying attention at all times even in a real meeting or does not mishear something, let alone in a three hour Zoom meeting.

“I am concerned that more planning meetings could get deferred for ‘technical’ reasons and that there needs to be a review of how to avoid this.” 

Cllr Steve Norman, Lichfield District Council

The meeting was also not broadcast live on YouTube due to what the local authority described as “technical reasons” – although people were able to watch via the Zoom meeting link.

A recording of the session has not appeared on the council’s YouTube channel at the time of writing.

“Representatives of our community”

Lichfield District Council House
Lichfield District Council House

The role of online meetings at Lichfield District Council have led to much discussion amongst elected members since they were introduced at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

One councillor stood down after it emerged he could not use the IT equipment needed to participate in the sessions – a decision Cllr Norman said was driven by criticism levelled at the individual by “ignorant people”.

The local authority’s vice chairman, Cllr Derrick Cross, also caused controversy when he emailed Conservative colleagues to suggest a return to in person meetings would mean members being “properly dressed for the occasion of serious business decision-making”.

Cllr Cross added that it was inappropriate for members of the council to be “seen dressed sloppy in the garden or toy strewn room, baby in our arms”.

His comments led to a backlash from members of his own party who said they were “shocked and disappointed” by the contents of his email.

Other members of the council have been more supportive of the proposals for online sessions to continue going forward.

A motion by the Labour group’s deputy leader Cllr Diane Evans had previously called for meetings to continue being streamed after the social distancing restrictions were eased.

The use of new technology represents an opportunity for current and future elected representatives to engage a wider audience in its work, including parents or guardians with young children, commuters, shift workers and those with mobility problems.

This council resolves to continue the use of virtual meetings while social distancing restrictions remain in place and to actively consider ways of integrating video conferencing and the online streaming of council and committee meetings when restrictions are lifted, so that it can continue to engage with the wider community.” 

Part of a motion proposed by Cllr Diane Evans in October 2020

Lichfield District Council’s leader, Cllr Doug Pullen, has also previously given his support to future online meetings, suggesting they would encourage a more diverse range of people to consider becoming elected members.

Doug Pullen
Doug Pullen

“The real transformative powers of retaining broadcast 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.”

Cllr Doug Pullen, Lichfield District Council
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Pamela Kynaston
3 years ago

Its time that all councillors fought to get better broadband in their areas. No use saying work from home when broadband is rubbish. Everyone needs better services especially if more people work from home. Also schoolchildren and students need it far more these days.

3 years ago

The dynamics of meetings ‘in person’ are very different from those on line. The members contributing to debate are already limited. On line there would be fewer still. Parliament at present is a farce.

Barry Scott
3 years ago

I cannot help but think that if these video meetings are disrupted in any way and we cannot see or hear councillors, would anyone actually notice?
Apart from the usual suspects who appear regularly in news articles on here – which is a handful from the Conservatives and Labour and the independent lady Councillor in Lichfield. The rest are almost non-existent. They sit and stare gormlessly and contribute nothing, then vote at the end according to what they have been told previoiusly by their party leader.
On the rare occasions they do actually make any sort of statement or contribution you just wonder why they bothered such is the poor quality of their public utterances. They usually display a total ignorance of issues and what it means for the areas they are supposed to be representing.
Yet I see many of these same non-entity councillors on social media websites spouting drivel on all sorts of issues that are more national and international politics and has nothing to do with Lichfield and Burntwood at all. Do I really care what they think about Chinese human rights, or that they agree with anything and everything an MP or minister says, or if Piers Morgan is a great loss to morning TV? No, I do not.
Do I care what they think about the over-development of Lichfield, the impact of Government policies on our schools and young children, the quality of health services in the area, the state of the roads? Yes, I do. But they stay silent on this, even though they love to tell everyone they are a “local” councillor.
Others who are not even on social media are pretty much invisible.
What is the point of having them? Is it simply to back up the handful who do seem engaged and to follow the party line on votes?
If it is then we clearly need more independent councillors. They at least speak their minds, are not afraid to vote against things which they see as being bad for our area.
No wonder there are so many councillors who want a return of the “good old” days of sitting in private meetings rooms. No wonder they do not like video meetings and technology that allows us to see what they do – because they do nothing!

3 years ago

“What is the point of having them? Is it simply to back up the handful who do seem engaged and to follow the party line on votes?”. @Barry Scott, Good relevant and important comment. I said the same 20+ years ago. Time for change.