Council goes behind closed doors

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has taken the decision to conduct the majority of its businesses behind closed doors in May.

With the exception of its planning committee, the rest of Council’s committees will not meet this month.

Instead, four working groups – one for each committee, made up of the members of each committee, will meet behind closed doors to discuss Council’s business.

Any decision reached at these working groups will require unanimous support before the outcomes are adopted by Council with Council’s Chief Executive, Roger Wilson, signing off on them through powers given to him under delegated authority.

Roger Wilson, Chief Executive, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

When asked why the decision was taken to conduct business in this fashion, a Council spokesperson said it was a result of the change in legislation regarding virtual meetings.

The regulations allowing for meetings to take place virtually came into effect on May 1, 2020, but are due to expire on May 7 of this year.

The Department for Communities has confirmed that new regulations will not be in place for a seamless continuation of remote meetings but has advised the regulations should be in place in early June.

At least one other Council is continuing with its programme of virtual committee meetings, streamed live to the public, with the decisions reached implemented by the Chief Executive under delegated authority.

With this in mind, it is unclear why Armagh City Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has decided that stopping the general public from viewing these meetings is the best option.

Attempting to explain that situation, a Council spokesperson said: “This decision was taken due to the change in legislation regarding virtual meetings.

“In the absence of formal committees for the month of May 2021, it has been approved by Council that it will operate a delegated authority approach for the implementation of decisions.

“However, council officers will continue to brief elected members on key issues and seek their direction through a series of working groups.

“As Council will operate under delegated authority for this period, the livestreaming of meetings will not take place.”

When asked to explain why, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the planned roll out of the vaccine, the time limited legislation permitting the holding of virtual council meetings was allowed to expire, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities offered little in the way of explanation.

“The action needed to extend this legislation is currently being progressed,” said the DfC spokesperson.

Editor’s message:

Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.