Moving permanently to a hybrid model of council meetings would improve the diversity of local councils, a new survey says

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2022 | 19 May 2022

Over two-thirds of councillors believe that moving to a hybrid model where meetings can be attended both online and in-person would improve the diversity of local councils, a new survey shows.

In total, 72% of councillors surveyed in a new poll from the County Councils Network (CCN) said that moving to a hybrid model where some meetings are held online and some are held in-person could attract more younger people, ethnic minorities, and women to stand in local elections. In total, 87% of respondents agreed that they would like their council to be able to adopt a hybrid set up going forward – something which the government has said it is considering.

The findings are in new report released today by the CCN and Zoom. Just 45% of respondents to the survey, which was filled in by councillors from the 36 local authorities CCN represents, said they were either self-employed or in full-time work. In addition, less than half of respondents said they had caring responsibilities.

Download the report here.

Of those, nine in ten respondents with caring responsibilities said that a hybrid model would allow them to better balance their role as councillors with the rest of their lives, whilst eight in ten without caring responsibilities said a hybrid model would provide a better councillor-life balance. A majority of respondents said that adopting a hybrid model would make it easier for them to attend more meetings.

Legislation in the Coronavirus Act 2020 allowing local authorities to do this during the pandemic lapsed in May 2021 and it did not feature in last week’s Queen’s Speech, but the government has previously committed to re-introducing this legislation in Parliament at a later date.

The survey was answered by 479 councillors – which is almost a fifth of all councillors within the 36 councils CCN represents. Respondents said that hybrid meetings could improve local accountability, engagement with residents, and reduce carbon emissions and costs for councils.

The survey found:

  • In total, 92% of councillors under the age of 44 and 61% of those aged 65 and over said that adopting a hybrid model would help improve the diversity of councils. In total, 85% of female councillors said such a model would enable a better councillor-life balance. Just 11% of respondents to the survey were under the age of 44.
  • A majority of councillors (51%) said adopting a hybrid model which enables local people to watch all meetings online would make their council more accessible and accountable to their residents. In total, 69% of respondents said video conferencing had helped them engage with community groups during the pandemic.
  • Over two-thirds of councillors (70%) said a hybrid model would cut down on travel expenses for their local authority, and three quarters (76%) said it would cut down on their carbon footprint. One councillor in a rural county estimated such a model could cut down on 1,000 miles for them a year.
  • In total, 71% of councillors said they expect their local authority to adopt a hybrid model which mixes remote and office working for most of their staff. During the pandemic, 83% of respondents said that they spent at least six hours a week video conferencing during the pandemic’s lockdowns – with 27% doing at least fifteen hours a week. Before that pandemic struck, just 12% of councillors said they had participated in council meetings online.

Cllr Julian German, Rural Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:

“One of the most defining features of first lockdown was the rise of video conferencing, and councils embraced this technology, turning the way they operate upside down almost overnight with meetings going virtual.

“Whilst councillors will always want the ability to meet, discuss and scrutinise in person, when reflecting on the lessons learned from the last two years, there are clear benefits to councils offering a hybrid model. There is a clear consensus that hybrid meetings could open the door to attracting a younger, more diverse set of councillors, who are able to effectively balance their councillor and caring or employment responsibilities.

“Councillors across the country are also clear such a model would also increase transparency and accountability, encouraging more residents to engage in council business, as well as providing cost and environmental benefits to the public sector. This should be viewed as a win-win scenario for government, with a hybrid model offering the best of both worlds. We urge ministers to consider including legislation to enable such a model.”

Charlotte Holloway, UK Government Relations Director at Zoom, said:

“After successfully adapting to new and innovative ways of working over the past two years, this report demonstrates a strong desire from the vast majority of councillors to continue using hybrid technologies for day-to-day work as well as statutory meetings – something currently prohibited in legislation.

“Although councillors have not been able to hold statutory meetings remotely since the emergency COVID-19 measures expired, it’s encouraging to see that councillors recognise how holding regular hybrid meetings can improve transparency and accountability, increase the diversity of councils and save carbon emissions. For councillors, the genie is clearly out of the bottle and they don’t want to go back to the way things were done before.

“At Zoom, we’re passionate about driving forward the digital transformation of public services. That’s why we were pleased to partner with the County Councils Network on this report and would like to thank its members for sharing their views on how the use of video conferencing in local government can best be deployed  to make hybrid councils work for all.”