Has the Minister provided additional funding for local authorities in order to implement hybrid meeting systems?
The Welsh Government supported Councils in many ways during the Covid pandemic including by introducing regulations temporarily permitting the holding of digital council meetings.
Subsequently, at the request of councils, the Government consulted upon measures to make hybrid meetings permanent. The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 therefore included provisions which preserved and built on the temporary measures put in place during the pandemic. This has given councils the flexibility to respond to local circumstances in how they run their meetings and improve public access.
I continue to receive positive views about how remote working has offered more flexible options for elected members in full-time employment, with young families and caring responsibilities, including during the recent Local Government and Housing Committee’s inquiry into diversity in local government.
While there have been discussions within local government about the merits of all 22 local authorities using a single set of systems across Wales, local government did not express a preference for that approach. There is therefore no approved or agreed list of hybrid meeting providers, each local authority chooses the provider that works best with its internal IT systems and IT governance procedures. Statutory guidance was developed in collaboration with local government to support multi-location meetings.
In terms of financial support, in December 2020 a fund of £500,000 was established to assist local authorities with implementing the public participation and local democracy related provisions of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021. The bids received from local authorities were varied but many were focused on actions to support hybrid meetings and broadcasting. Ultimately more than £850,000 was provided in the 2020-21 financial year to principal councils, much of which was to support multi-location meetings and for broadcasting.