COUNCILLORS in East Hampshire have agreed to bend the rules on councillor attendances – meaning an elected member can now go six months without attending a single meeting and face no consequences.
At a hybrid annual council meeting last Thursday night, with some members meeting face to face at Penn’s Place and others via Skype, councillors voted to postpone rules meaning a councillor would lose their seat if they failed to attend a single meeting in six months.
Only a scattering of opposition Lib Dem and Labour members voted against the motion to waive the requirements of Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972 until May 2021.
Presenting the item, council leader Cllr Richard Millard explained the “Covid crisis has caused considerable issues with meetings”, adding the recommendation proposes “a very realistic and reasonable time-frame to allow us to implement the necessary technology to allow the smooth running of meetings”.
But hitting back, Cllr Elaine Woodard, the Lib Dem member for Horndean Murray, said there were enough meetings scheduled for members to comfortably meet the six-month requirement up to next May.
Lib Dem group leader and Alton Amery councillor Steve Hunt added the proposed waiver was “completely out of proportion”, while Lib Dem member for Alton Ashdell, Suzie Burns, added virtual meetings make it much easier, not harder, for councillors to attend.
And Lib Dem councillor for Alton Whitedown, Ginny Boxall, said it “sends the wrong message to residents, who will be bemused why we are not adapting to our new circumstances”.
But the opposition members were out-voted by 30 Tory votes in favour to nine votes against, and one abstention.
One of those who stands to benefit most is Bramshott and Liphook councillor Rebecca Standish, after recently relocating to Wiltshire with her husband to run The Shears Inn near Marlborough.
Cllr Standish has vowed to carry out her council duties ‘remotely’ from the west country – but East Hampshire’s leading Tory group has been accused of “throwing a lifeline” to the elusive Conservative councillor to retain her seat.
Prior to attending last week’s annual council via a patchy internet connection, Cllr Standish had attended just one meeting since January – a remote session of the joint human resources committee in July, on which she was appointed just days prior.