Councils across Lancashire are beginning to change how they discharge their democratic functions during the coronavirus outbreak.
Lancashire County Council has cancelled all formal cabinet, council and committee meetings "until further notice". It is understood that use will be made of the provision in the authority's constitution for the leader or relevant cabinet member to "deal with matters of urgency which cannot await a meeting of the cabinet".
South Ribble Borough Council ripped up its meetings schedule just hours before one gathering was due to take place on Tuesday evening. The authority is considering alternative ways of making decisions and is awaiting possible government legislation on the matter.
“Due to the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in across the globe due to the coronavirus, we have taken the decision to suspend all council meetings and committees until further notice,” explained South Ribble leader Paul Foster.
“It is important we take the advice from the Government in order to do what we can to delay the spread of the virus across our communities. Our priority is to protect those around us and we urge everyone to follow Government and Public Health England guidance as it emerges.
“We will be sharing key information and updates on our social media channels and website over the coming days and weeks.
“This is a tough time for all of us, please be safe and check in on those who are vulnerable if you can,” Cllr Foster added.
Wyre Council has cancelled all but “essential” meetings between now and 15th May – along with all planned events. It is understood that the next full council meeting will go ahead in order to enable decisions to be taken, but with social distancing measures in place.
Elsewhere, Ribble Valley Borough Council's meetings are indefinitely postponed, Chorley Council has cancelled all of its meetings up until the end of this month, while Preston City Council is yet to announce any changes to its meeting schedule.
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said: "It’s important to put the health of residents, council members and staff first.
"We will continue to follow government advice on what to do beyond these two weeks and we’ll communicate this once we know more. While the current situation is causing disruption to daily lives, we have plans to ensure that we continue to deliver services for residents as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, Fylde Council will hold an extraordinary meeting this evening in which members will be asked to delegate decision-making powers to officers, with the situation being kept under weekly review.
The move is in response to the latest government advice for the over 70s to be “particularly stringent” in practising social distancing – by avoiding gatherings and unnecessary use of public transport.
Council papers state that 43 percent of the authority’s members are in that age bracket, some of whom are already self-isolating after “carefully considering their circumstances”. They add that there may be insufficient numbers able or willing to travel to meetings during the outbreak.
Fylde operates a system of governance under which individual committees have significant decision-making powers. As it is currently illegal for members to vote remotely, those powers will now be delegated to relevant officers where it is legally permissible.
However, councillors will be consulted remotely and hold an “informal vote”. While that vote cannot bind officers, they are likely to give “almost overwhelming weight to a vote of committee members responding remotely to a report and officers’ advice”.
Fylde’s town hall headquarters in Lytham St. Annes will also curtail their opening hours to between 10-11am and 2-3pm, with residents encouraged to use online services instead.