New legislation coming into force to allow Northamptonshire councils to keep governing

Secretary of state for local Government Roert Kendrick announced the measures on Monday (March 16)

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 9:34 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 9:36 am
Social distancing expectations may mean that councillors have to meet virtually.

New emergency legislation is set to be pushed through in order to allow the local councils in Northamptonshire to function better during the coronavirus outbreak.

A series of measures were announced by local government secretary of state Robert Jenrick MP on Monday (March 16), including advice on how council meetings could look moving forward. This could involve meetings being held virtually.

The government has confirmed that routine Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections will be temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 outbreak, while they also said Ofsted would ‘look very favourably’ on any requests to defer inspections.

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The announcement came shortly after Prime Minister Boris Johnson had advised against all ‘non-essential contact’ and trips to pubs, theatres and mass gatherings.

Such advice is also leaving councillors and members of the public questioning whether council meetings will go ahead.

Corby Council has cancelled all its councillor Saturday surgeries, its rural forum scheduled for Friday and its full council meeting on the 26th. The development control meeting and One Corby meeting planned for the 23rd and 24th are currently still going ahead, but things could change in coming days.

Kettering Council’s website says it is still holding its research and development meeting planned for the 24th and a planning meeting for the 25th.

A spokesman said: “We are currently awaiting government guidance, and possibly legislative changes, which will allow us to hold meetings in other ways.

Wellingborough Council’s full council meeting for Tuesday, 24th will still take place.

Although no decision has yet been made the county council – to postpone meetings Mr Jenrick said that the government would ‘consider bringing forward legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period’.

This could mean meetings being held online, but it is not yet clear whether the meetings would be broadcast or be accessible for members of the public or press.

Mr Jenrick’s announcement said Westminster would also consider bringing forward legislation to remove the requirement for annual council meetings to take place in person. The annual council meetings usually take place in May.

Meanwhile, the deadline for local government financial audits will be extended to September 30, and councils will be able to use their discretion on deadlines for Freedom of Information requests – meaning many could take longer than the current deadline of 20 working days.