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Council meetings to be held virtually

14 May 2020
Elected Members of Derry City and Strabane District Council attended an Online Briefing with Council officials today where details of how Council and Committee meetings will be held virtually over the coming months, was provided.
Members heard that following the implementation of legislation under the Local Government Coronavirus Flexibility of District Council Meeting Regulations NI 2020, Council can now hold all its meetings, including its AGM, virtually.
Under the legislation there is no requirement to amend Standing Orders but a Draft Protocol has been developed that will consider a range of procedural guidelines with consideration to be given to the duration of meetings and speaking time for members.
It was agreed that May’s Full Council meeting would take place virtually on 28 May at 4pm and available to view on the Council’s Youtube channel. Details of the Council’s AGM, scheduled for 01 June, where nominations for the role of Mayor and Deputy Mayor, as well as positions of responsibility such as chairs of committee will be taken, was also agreed for 01 June at 7pm.  A Special Meeting to seek nominations to external bodies was agreed for 08 June and a full schedule of Committee meetings for June and July were also agreed at the meeting, all of which are currrently to be held virtually.
In relation to the Planning Committee specifically, members heard that it will also go ahead virtually with an addendum currently being developed that will be presented at Full Council on 28 May, for ratification. Members were advised that a Briefing to assist members of the committee with the processes involved would be held in advance of the meeting and that all information will be published on the Council website and communicated directly with agents and stakeholders. It was also agreed that the Planning Committee meetings for the coming months would be 17 June and 01 July.
Members were also provided with an update in relation to Council’s current difficult financial position and informed that Council was represented at an evidence session at the Communities Committee at Stormont this week where the impact of Covid-19 on local councils was outlined to the Committee. Members heard how Council has joined with the other NI Councils to call on Government to provide greater direct financial support to help mitigate against impact of COVID19.
Members heard how NILGA on behalf of all Councils has asked Government to assist councils in a number of ways – they include the following – for all Council financial losses, caused by the pandemic, to be underwritten and supported by a COVID 19 financial support package;  upfront expenditure incurred by Council in preparing for and managing the pandemic to be reimbursed through the Scheme of Emergency Financial Assistance (SEFA) or other financial assistance schemes; all costs incurred by Council in providing COVID 19 support roles such as community support to be reimbursed; a guarantee from government that rates paid to Councils will be based on the estimated figure agreed as part of the rate setting process; an extension of the non-domestic rates relief to council premises / deferral of rates payments; and a request for land and Property Services to work with Council to develop a robust rate forecasting model in order to assess potential loss of rates income in future years especially 2021/22.
Elected members were also provided with an update in relation to the staff retention scheme and how Government has extended it until October. They heard how over 200 employees, mainly from within the leisure sections, those who have been shielded and those employed on a casual basis, have been furloughed and will continue to be paid their full salary and continue to benefit from all the existing terms and conditions of their employment. Members heard that this continues to be under review, as well as ongoing consultation and communication with staff and unions.
 
It was outlined to Elected Members how  the NI Executive’s Corona Virus Recovery Strategy will form a key part of the Council’s Recovery Plan, and while the latest NI Executive guidelines have no specific timelines at this stage, Council will continue to work in collaboration with the NI Executive and all relevant stakeholders, including the other NI Councils, to respond accordingly and to ensure the timelines are in line with its own recovery plans.
 
Members heard how Council continues to focus on continuing to provide critical public services during this emergency period and that recovery plans and the resumption of other Council services continues to form a key part any plans moving forward.
 
Members agreed that any Recovery Plan by Council will continue to be led by Government legislation and guidance and Department of Health advice, and will be planned, proportionate and cautious, with the health and safety of Council staff and the wider public very much to the fore.  Since the beginning of the Corona Virus Emergency and throughout the entire process, Council has and continues to, engage and communicate with its staff, unions and elected members and any change to our services would be agreed by Elected Members and communicated widely to the public.
 
In terms of the phased approach outlined in the NI Executive guidelines it was highlighted that any decisions to reopen any facilities or resume services will be guided by the Government and the Department of Health guidance and when it is safe and appropriate to do so. Members were reassured that preparatory work and a range of procedures were already being progressed within all directorates to prepare for this phased approach, they include updated risk assessments, health and safety reviews, revised protocols and workplace policies.
 
It was also agreed at the meeting that a letter be written to the Western Trust seeking a meeting with Council in relation to the care home situation.
 
The Briefing concluded with a very positive report on the recent Virtual Jazz Festival with officers reporting a huge success with over 50 musical performances, over 167,000 video views and 100,000 web page views. Members were informed that the Mayor’s Virtual Tea Dance hosted on Radio Foyle earlier this week and the online VE Day celebrations were also a huge success attracting new audiences and positive feedback.
 
It was agreed to cancel all events organised in Council venues until the end of August and members were reminded that a paper would come before members of the Business and Culture Committee in June with regard to the planning of future Council organised events such as Halloween and the Christmas campaign.
 
Concluding the meeting, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle extended her thanks to officers and members for their continued commitment throughout the current situation. She made a special plea for people to continue to adhere to Government legislation relating to unnecessary travel and reminded the public to stay at home to help save lives.
 
She expressed concern at reports of planned mass gatherings and urged the public to refrain from attending and to continue to support the NHS by adhering to the legislation and staying at home.
 
“We are doing well but we need to continue with this approach and work together to protect lives. Please continue to stay at home, wash your hands regularly and please avoid unnecessary journeys.”