Concern over plans to host full Nottinghamshire County Council meeting without social distancing

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Nottinghamshire County Council is facing criticism over plans to host all 66 councillors in a meeting without social distancing.

The Conservative-led authority says it is following Government guidelines put in place as a legal requirement to bring back face-to-face meetings.

But some members say they have ‘deep reservations’ about the move.

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The council’s County Hall base in West Bridgford will host a full council meeting on Thursday, July 22 at full capacity and with no social distancing rules.

County Hall, home of Nottinghamshire County CouncilCounty Hall, home of Nottinghamshire County Council
County Hall, home of Nottinghamshire County Council

It will come just three days after many of England’s Covid restrictions come to an end, meaning there is no legal imperative to spread out councillors.

However, objections have been made against what one member called an “enforced return to normality” amid surging Covid cases across the county.

Rushcliffe Borough, where County Hall is based, has seen its infection rate soar to 500.9 cases per 100,000 people – the highest since March last year.

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And some opposition councillors have raised concerns about the timing of the changes.

Councillor Daniel Williamson, who represents Kirkby South for the Ashfield Independents, suffered throat cancer at a young age and has underlying health conditions.

He said: “I am concerned and have deep reservations about the enforced return to normality we are being subjected to.

“During the pandemic, virtual meetings have been a godsend to many who otherwise would have found themselves out of work or unable to meet the demands of their job.

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“When Covid cases are clearly and demonstrably on the rise, for those like me who have underlying health conditions this is an incredibly dangerous situation.

“It’s no joke to suggest it could cost some colleagues their lives.”

Labour has also criticised the plans for next week’s meeting and suggested some councillors may not attend.

Councillor Kate Foale, leader of the Labour group at County Hall, said: “It is unfair to ask elected members to choose between attending the meeting to represent their communities – thereby potentially putting themselves and their families at risk and perhaps unknowingly spreading this awful disease – and not showing up.

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“Our Labour group has several members who are clinically vulnerable, or who live with people who are, and will therefore be unable to attend.”

The Government made it law in May for councils to bring back face-to-face meetings.

It marked the end of virtual meetings held over zoom to prevent the spread of Covid.

Commenting on the concerns, the county council said it is a “legal requirement” for members to attend in person but that it is down to personal decisions.

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Rules on attendance are expected to be loosened to ease concerns, while councillors will be asked to wear masks in the chamber and a testing regime will be implemented.

A spokesperson said: “The council will be following Government guidelines regarding meetings at full council on July 22.

“All members have been approached about attendance through their groups or individually and it will be a personal decision whether or not they wish to attend.

“It is now a legal requirement for councillors to attend meetings in person.

“We will continue to live stream meetings on our YouTube channel so that anyone interested in viewing and listening to the debate can continue to do so.”