24 May 2022

Council split on future of home working

Bendradagh councillor Kathleen McGurk said home working was more inclusive.

Council split on future of home working

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council will review remote meeting arrangements in the Autumn after making provision for remote meetings until then.

The council's Corporate Policy and Resources Committee last week altered their standing orders to allow for remote meetings after the Stormont government's legislation expired earlier this month.

Councillor Darryl Wilson suggested reviewing the changes in September with a view to councillors returning to the chamber, but said remote access could still be granted for council staff.

“The pandemic is still here, and we will do what we can to keep staff and elected representatives safe,” he said.

“I personally find the governance and democratic works best when all elected members are present here.

“I understand why they can't be at the minute, but if the opportunity arises in the future, I think they should be in here.

“I don't think this applies to staff. We've sat here where members of staff have sat awaiting their item coming up for two, three hours.

“Those staff are maybe having to get childcare and it's not good time management for them, or for the finances of the council with fuel and other associated costs.”

The suggestion sparked a passionate response from Benbradagh councillor Kathleen McGurk, who said the council should take the opportunity to make local politics more inclusive.

“I think we are missing a major opportunity to embrace this moving forward,” she told the committee.

“There seems to be resistance from some members, who continually look to move back to the old way we were working, with members back in the chamber.

“We have been looking at ways of becoming a more inclusive organisation and bringing different people into politics; why would we not extend the benefits of remote or hybrid meetings to members?

“I am a young, working mother and it's difficult to attend the chamber all the time. Remote meetings have meant I have been able to juggle home, working and political life much more easily.

“A review is fine, but why is the default position always 'how can we get everybody back into the chamber?'

“It really frustrates me to see the opposition to this opportunity to overhaul how we work and make politics a more inclusive environment for everybody.”

Alderman William Duddy said the optics of councillors being in the chamber was important.

“We need to get back to an air of normality. We're elected to the chamber, we're not elected to our kitchen tables,” he said.

“Part of what's missing are the discussions in between, before and after the meetings that can help improve business within this council.”

SDLP councillor Orla Beattie said members had forgotten about previous occasions when remote access to meetings may have been useful.

“In the past we've had meetings cancelled because of weather,” she said.

“That's something we have to take into consideration; sometimes it's just safer to be working from home. It's an option we have to keep open.”

Cllr James McCorkell concluded the discussion by saying the council should show leadership on getting things back to normality.

“Anyone with health conditions, come September or October, will most certainly have had their second vaccine,” he said.

“At this stage, we need to be looking at our mental health and getting out amongst people. There is a social aspect to this as well and I think we should show leadership on it.”

The committee then voted to approve the motion to provide for remote or hybrid meetings, with a review to be held in September.

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