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Town mayor vows to fight for remote access to meetings after catching Covid-19

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A town mayor who is recovering from a nasty bout of Covid-19 is fighting to change the law to ensure colleagues' safety at meetings across West Berkshire.

Hungerford mayor Helen Simpson wants fellow town and parish councillors and residents to be able to attend meetings remotely again while coronavirus remains a national threat.

During lockdown, the Government allowed district and parish councils to hold public meetings exclusively online.

Helen Simpson
Helen Simpson

These allow residents to view proceedings remotely.

That permission has since been rescinded meaning that councillors must meet in small, unventilated rooms to satisfy regulations or risk having their decisions rendered legally void.

West Berkshire Council, Thatcham Town Council and Lambourn Parish Council are among those who have since opted to move forward with 'hybrid' meetings, which allow remote public access while still leaving councillors vulnerable.

Mrs Simpson told the full Hungerford town council meeting: "I was very poorly, having caught it - I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

"I think it's crazy that, as volunteers, and with some of us looking after the vulnerable or being vulnerable ourselves, that we can't take advantage of modern technology.

"The fact is that it worked so well for months; it was more accessible to the public and we saw more people at (virtual) meetings."

The system even enabled councillor Rob Chicken to participate from New Zealand, where he was trapped due to lockdown.

Mrs Simpson added: "It's really challenging to be forced into a situation that could easily be avoided.

"I'm going to push as hard as I can to get [currrent legislation] overturned.

"I don't know why we can't make our own choices on this."

The council resolved to pursue the matter with the Local Government Association and other statutory bodies.

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