Public unable to watch first ever Northamptonshire Covid-19 meeting

The meeting was originally supposed to be broadcast to the public via YouTube

By Sarah Ward
Thursday, 9th July 2020, 2:27 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th July 2020, 2:30 pm
The board has been set up to foster public engagement around the local virus response.
The board has been set up to foster public engagement around the local virus response.

Members of the public were blocked from watching the first public meeting about how Northamptonshire will respond to the Covid-19 emergency.

The Northamptonshire Covid-19 Overview and Engagement board was held yesterday (July 8) morning and was supposed to broadcast via the authority’s YouTube channel.

But after having technical issues and then some uncertainty about whether the meeting should be held in public or private, Northamptonshire County Council abandoned trying to broadcast it and went ahead with the meeting anyway.

The county’s Director of Public Health Lucy Wightman briefed the members of the committee (made up of councillors and officers) on the Covid situation in the county.

The committee’s role was to ratify Northamptonshire’s outbreak prevention and control plan – a high level document which gives the broad outline of the approach the county would take to tackle any spike in coronavirus cases in Northants.

After the meeting the council issued a press release which included a statement from the chair, Cllr Ian Morris.

He said: “The board is an absolutely vital part of the wider prevention and outbreak control plan for the county to ensure that the right political oversight is given on how we engage with people about the pandemic.

“Our intention is to communicate any messages needed to prevent outbreaks occurring, while ensuring that they are set in the right context.

“The Terms of Reference of the Board are being established and once in place we can then move forward and meet regularly to discuss one of the major issues of our time.

“While there is no statutory requirement to hold the session in public it is recognised that in the interests of transparency and the nature of the board to engage with people, there is an advantage to having part of the session in public.

“The cross-party support on the Board gives me confidence that we are applying the right political rigour in overseeing this very important piece of work for the county.”

It is understood councillors who took part were told during the meeting that they must not discuss what was said with anyone not present.

A BBC journalist who gained entry to the zoom call was also quickly removed by the administrators after Northamptonshire County Council’s chief executive Theresa Grant said the meeting was private.

The authority’s communications team have so far refused to clarify whether the meeting was in fact a private or public meeting as had been previously advertised.

The council is in its last nine months, after government ordered it must close down after

Its unprecedented financial collapse caused by years of mismanagement and unworkable schemes.

Northamptonshire residents have been keen to hear about covid planning after the county has suffered more than 670 Covid-19 deaths. There is also some anxiety because the Northamptonshire shares a border with Leicestershire – which is the only place in the country so far to have imposed a local lockdown after a serious outbreak in which during early July residents were testing positive for the virus at three times the national average.

Northants Unison, which represents many council workers, tweeted after the private meeting: “The health of the citizens of our county should be open to scrutiny. The public has a right to know what’s happening.”

The board will meet on a monthly basis, but could be more frequent if there is a spike in cases.