Information for Chairs and Secretaries
The Council’s Planning Service will be restarting certain activities in the coming weeks which will allow more applications to progress. The Scottish Government have been clear that they wish the planning system to continue to function during the lockdown, so that there is a pipeline of consents ready for when construction resumes.
Last week some further changes to the service were announced using the Planning Edinburgh blog (the main Planning Service channel for communication to stakeholders at the moment):
The upshot of all this is that if applications are being progressed in your area there may be a need for you to respond. This fits the criteria of a decision that needs to be made timeously and if you follow the steps below I’m content that a remote/electronic meeting is appropriate.
If you want more information please sign up to the Planning Edinburgh blog for updates. The Planning Service have rationalised down their various channels as they have limited staff resource to provide bespoke replies to enquirers on changes to their service during this time. It only needs an email address, and is easy to sign up to or unsubscribe from.
Use of Zoom
Due to a number of security issues, concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of using free Zoom software for online, in particular internal, Council meetings. As a result Zoom has been blocked on all Council machines. This decision has been taken due to the confidential nature of internal meetings and to secure sensitive information about service users and vulnerable citizens.
Whilst these security issues won’t be of concern for CCs you should consider whether using Zoom will mean that a Council Officer or Councillor is unable to attend your meeting. Can I recommend that if you are planning on using Zoom that you get in touch with ward councillors and check they are still able to attend. I would hope that many will be able to do so using personal devices but alternative software may need to be used if this is not the case.
Questions have been received about online CC meetings and wanted to ensure there was clarity on our position.
Firstly, it should be stressed that there is no requirement to hold electronic meetings. The recess for all Council committee business, halting of construction works and inability to carry out many community activities will mean that many CCs have few decisions to make during this time. As such, CCs will not be penalised under the scheme for not holding meetings. We will support the decision of CCs who choose not to meet and would go as far as encouraging this.
During normal times the CC Scheme does not allow for online meetings. Whilst there is no specific provision which precludes online meetings by name there are a number of provisions which are difficult to adhere to whilst holding a meeting electronically, the most obvious being that it is difficult for members of the public to attend and partake. Additionally those that are not IT literate or do not have access to the correct equipment will be excluded entirely. I would argue that holding electronic meetings is not in the spirit of what is intended by the document. See extract from scheme below:
Para 9.7 - All meetings of the community council and its committees shall be open to members of the public. Proper provision is to be made for the accommodation of members of the public and the opportunity should be afforded at each meeting to permit members of the public to address the community council under the guidance of the Chairperson.
However, for the duration of the lockdown, the Council is willing to permit requests from CCs for online meetings in situations where there is absolute necessity, provided that the following steps are taken:
- We are notified in advance and informed of what decisions are required to be taken.
- The meeting is announced, publicised and promoted according to current provisions.
- Meetings are conducted using video conferencing application or software that is free and easy to use.
- Members of the public are able to attend the meeting electronically and partake in discussion/questions.
- The meeting continues to be conducted according to standing orders and is recorded and minuted.
- You do not hold your AGM electronically, as things stand these should be delayed until a degree of normality resumes.
- Any other provisions in the scheme not mentioned above continue to be followed. (see attached).
- Only urgent decisions that require to be made timeously should be made. All other decisions that can be delayed should be.
An alternative approach may be that Community Councils wish to hold regular discussion/engagement online events during the crisis. It should be made clear that these are just discussion meetings and no decisions are to be taken. Such meetings are perhaps a good way of promoting the CC and engaging a new audience.