Wiltshire Publications

Town Council ‘proud’ of its online operations

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A YEAR since the introduction of regulations to enable councils to hold remote meetings via the internet, Westbury Town Council has shared its positive virtual experience with the White Horse News.

Town clerk Deborah Urch said, “New regulations came into force on 4th April 2020 which allowed us to hold remote meetings and stream them to the public and invite guests to participate.

“In response the town council approved an addendum to standing orders (the way we run meetings) that set out how remote meetings would be run. 

“With this structure in place we were able to hold our first committee meeting – highways, planning and development on 20.04.20 followed by a full town council meeting on 11.05.20.”

The town council had already made progress using new technology by providing a council tablet and login to Microsoft SharePoint and Teams for those councillors who wanted it, allowing a quick and easy switch to remote meetings. 

Deborah said, “We chose to use Microsoft Teams Live for our remote meetings as this was a secure platform that allowed us to stream to the public and invite guests to participate.

“Initially we did experience issues inviting a small number of the public to join the meeting. However it is important to point out, for these few we continued to take questions and statements that were shared with councillors and the public was able to see and hear any response. These teething problems were quickly overcome and recent upgrades to the Teams Live has made the process simpler and streamlined.”

Councillors soon got to grips with the new technology, Deborah added, saying they are fully able to participate and be seen and heard, and have continued to hold meetings through the past year and all lockdowns.

“We introduced presentation slides to ensuring the public have a clear understanding and a visual of what is being discussed during our meetings,” Deborah told White Horse News. “This has added to the preparation time for meetings but it is a worthwhile exercise for efficiency and ease of sharing information.”

The numbers of councillors and the public attending meetings has remained constant and councillors who work have said the remote meetings make it easier for them to join meetings that take place during the day.

Deborah said, “Feedback from the public has been positive and people enjoyed being able to hear what was being discussed from the comfort of their own armchair. 

“We did receive some constructive feedback in the beginning about how meetings could be improved for the public watching, such as councillors introducing themselves.

“The power that allows us to hold remote public meetings is due to end on 6th May, we are waiting to hear if this will be extended. We will follow the government roadmap for opening up meetings (and the Laverton) to the public to attend meetings.”

Deborah added, “I would like remote meetings to be able to continue for many of our meetings with a hybrid face to face / remote for committee and town council. 

“Certainly we have been able to use remote meetings and Cloud-based technology to make our discussion meetings (working groups) focused, dynamic and collaborative.

“In fact we are rather proud of how quickly we introduced remote meetings and the ability for council business to continue.”

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