East Renfrewshire Council will hold meetings via video link

The council will begin meetings again from next month, but they'll be online rather than at the East Renfrewshire Council HQ.The council will begin meetings again from next month, but they'll be online rather than at the East Renfrewshire Council HQ.
The council will begin meetings again from next month, but they'll be online rather than at the East Renfrewshire Council HQ.
Meetings of East Renfrewshire Council are to set to be held digitally from next month.

They were suspended in March to help the authority respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with decisions delegated to council officers.

But a report to the emergencies committee, set up when the suspension was agreed, asks the leaders of the three political groups on the council to approve re-starting meetings.

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It also recommends the temporary extension of delegated powers to council officers is withdrawn from June 30.

Councillors agreed to hand emergency decision-making powers to Chief Executive Lorraine McMillan and senior officers on March 23.

“This introduced flexibility to enable officers to take decisions at short notice in a rapidly changing landscape,” the new report states.

But the move has been criticised by some councillors and residents, with concerns raised over a lack of scrutiny.

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Councillor Paul Aitken said: “Only Councillor Macdonald and myself voted against the transfer of powers from councillors to council management.

“I am still surprised that my fellow councillors agreed to give up all of their power for an indefinite period.

“Only councillors, and not council management, are accountable to voters.”

But Paul O’Kane, the council’s deputy leader, hit back at Cllr Aitken’s comments, saying: “He takes scrutiny so seriously he resigned from every committee he sat on, including the audit and scrutiny committee.”

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He said no council policy has been changed while the emergency measures were in place.

Cllr O’Kane added he was proud of the way council staff had responded to the pandemic and supported the community.

Council leader Tony Buchanan said the changes had never been “indefinite” and it was “quite clear that delegated authority was for operational decisions in respect of matters relating to the situation we find ourselves in”.

He said the emergencies committee had “continually reviewed” the arrangement. “Credit to all of our staff in the council who have worked way beyond expectations in delivering for our residents,” he added.

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The report, to be considered on Thursday, states “despite the additional work required, a degree of relative stability has now been reached enabling the recommencement of formal meetings to be considered”.

They could begin with a planning applications committee meeting on June 10.

An education committee meeting is planned for June 11, full council for June 24 and the audit and scrutiny committee on June 25.

The council’s IT team is currently checking whether all elected members have the appropriate equipment to participate and a connection guide is being developed.

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“This should enable members to join meetings without assistance, but support will be available to assist members if required,” the report adds. “Some testing will also be carried out in advance to ensure that arrangements are operating satisfactorily and that members are able to connect.”

The authority isn’t planning to re-start licensing committee meetings yet as they involve third parties, such as applicants and the police, and issues around site visits need to be addressed.

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