Pingdemic halves council meeting attendance

Pingdemic halves council meeting attendance

By Gareth Dennison | 30/07/2021

Pingdemic halves council meeting attendance
Pictured: The Rotherham Borough Council's July meeting.


More than half of the cabinet was missing from the science centre’s Big Hall, where the meeting took place for a second time to allow more space.

Only ten of the planned 23 questions were able to be asked or answered because nearly a third of councillors were absent.

Labour members at the meeting were outnumbered by the total opposition.

And the meeting last Wednesday clocked in at 77 minutes — way below the average of about four hours.

The Mayor of Rotherham, Cllr Jenny Andrews, said in her opening remarks: “Today, we are missing a number of our colleagues, many of whom are having to self-isolate.”

Opposition members claimed the ruling Labour group was behind a move to have the meeting cancelled, although this was denied.

Tory group leader Cllr Emily Barley said after: “I’m glad it went ahead as I think cancelling with 48 hours’ notice without an emergency would have been the wrong thing for the people of Rotherham, who expect us to do our jobs individually and as a council.
“It also would have been tough on councillors who booked time off work and re-arranged childcare and business meetings to be there if it was cancelled at the last minute.
“I was aware that we were finely balanced and I believe opposition councillors had a combined majority of one.

“I was encouraged by various others to take advantage of the situation and find a way to cause a bit of trouble, but that would just be playing politics and I’m not interested in that.

“It was disappointing to again see Labour cabinet members responding to questions from Conservatives with attempts to score political points and draw us into a political bun fight.”

Cllr Adam Carter, Lib Dem group leader, said: “I do think that the Government should have allowed meetings where councillors could have dialled in from home if self-isolating.
“However, the council has a constitution for a reason. It says that if more than 20 councillors can make it, then meetings can make decisions.
“Labour trying to cancel a meeting with 48 hours’ notice is unacceptable, particularly as it was suggested that there was nothing important to be discussed. I was told that 18 councillors had sent in apologies, but then that dropped to just 13 on the day.”

Rotherham Council said there had been no Labour request to cancel, but an officer had engaged with all sides to understand the numbers expected and ensuring the meeting would be quorate.

Deputy leader Cllr Sarah Allen urged extreme caution with the movement into the fourth and final phase of the Government’s roadmap out of restrictions.

She said in the meeting: “As evidenced by the number of absences we have today, we really do need to remain cautious.

“By the end of this week, Rotherham will most likely have the highest rate of cases we’ve had in the pandemic, 537 per 100,000 people. We have at least 13 councillors and 93 members of staff self-isolating.”

Leader Cllr Chris Read and Cllr Emma Hoddinott were absent because they welcomed son Joshua into the world on the day of the meeting, just after midnight. Members across the chamber joined in the congratulations.

Independent Cllr Michael Sylvester said: “If the meeting had been cancelled, it wouldn’t have made much difference. It shows how unimportant the council meeting is, because all the power lies with the cabinet.
“There were no resolutions, no motions, all we were doing was nodding through a series of reports.

“This leads back to the question of whether cabinet and strong leader is the best model, and shows how little full council has to do.”

Cllr Ian Jones, Rotherham Democratic Party, had been against cancelling but withdrew his questions after learning the level of absences.

Health and wellbeing board was called off earlier in the day because of the number of apologies received.


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