Zoom meetings here to stay – even after Covid-19 pandemic is over – council decides
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
As few as five council meetings a year could be held on a face-to-face basis in Gwynedd even after the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
Councillors have backed a framework outlining that the vast majority of both formal and internal meetings should continue to be held over video conferencing even after social distancing is no longer considered necessary.
Among the benefits outlined were a reduction in travel and resulting carbon footprint, encouraging more diversity in the council’s membership including younger members, and a more efficient use of councillor and officer time.
The report recommended that only full council meetings, held five times a year and including all 75 members, should be held on a face-to-face basis.
Others, such as Licensing Sub-Committees and Employment Appeal Committees should be flexible and largely dependant on the individual’s own preference.
While the vast majority of meetings were previously held in Caernarfon – and some in Dolgellau and Pwllheli – councillors have generally welcomed the ability to hold meetings from the comfort of their homes.
And with the county covering 984 square miles, for some councillors the regular journeys can involve round trips of over three hours if representing areas such as Aberdyfi or Aberdaron.
But while the use of video conferencing was only introduced out of necessity, many councillors have embraced the “new normal”.
Cllr Dewi Owen, who represents Aberdyfi, said during Thursday’s Democratic Services Committee meeting: “It’s quite a distance to get to Caernarfon just for a 90 minute meeting and I hope we continue with these virtual meetings in future.
“It makes my work much easier and I’m sure it applies to others as well, and after next year’s elections I hope there will be more younger councillors taking part even if they have to work full-time, as it makes it so much smoother.”
The potential of hybrid meetings, with some in the chamber and others contributing remotely, were largely written-off after some councillors felt that those not in the room were not always treated equally.
Cllr Dewi Wyn Roberts added: “Personally I do like to face-to-face meetings to be honest, but we have to accept it’s a big county and travel is an issue.
“I can see it allowing people to become councilllors where they otherwise wouldn’t feel able to, if they have children or work from home for instance.”
But he warned: “There is a danger that we all become more insular by not meeting and networking in the same way as before, so we must be mindful of that.”
Members decided to accept the proposed framework.