County Councillor for Gartree – Virtual Thoughts on The Coronavirus Lockdown

Although staying at home like others, I’ve still had a variety of council meetings to attend – albeit virtually. The county council uses Skype, and I gave a report on 24 March to the Cabinet, as chairman of a Scrutiny Review panel looking at how the Children and Families directorate engages with Multi-Academy Trusts.

I was the first speaker, apart from the chairman, who was sat in the Sparkenhoe committee room at county hall. This room is used for public meetings of committees as it has the necessary audio-visual equipment for webcasting on YouTube. An archive on YouTube of all our public council meetings goes back to 2017. As this was somewhat of a trial, being the first live webcast Skype meeting, the IT department advised the 20 online users to turn off our video to minimise any negative effect on the bandwidth. All worked fine and there have been several subsequent Skype meetings of the Scrutiny Commission and all member briefings when up to 45 people have been online. The chairman has had to insist on microphones being muted, unless speaking, to stop extraneous sounds, such as sneezing, coughing, scraping chairs and paper rustling amongst other sounds, but for the most part I deem them a success.

For local parish council meetings, most are using Zoom, although Great Glen did use Skype for their monthly meeting on 14 April. It worked fine but I was distracted by one of the parish councillors having his blue point Siamese cat on his computer table!

The recommendation from the Leicestershire & Rutland Association of Local Councils (LRALC) is to use Zoom.  Kibworth Beauchamp have had a test run with seven of us joining the clerk, but that left four still needing more help, and hopefully all will be well for their monthly virtual meeting later in April. The arrangements for participation of the public are still being looked into, but with a bit more testing should be fine provided the public have access to a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Kibworth Harcourt held their April meeting using Zoom too. Only three of us were able to make it, but we were quorate and the mainly financial business was completed within 30 mins. The free to use version of Zoom has a maximum 40 minute time limit which leads to less chat and more focus.

From a family and home perspective WhatsApp with a maximum of four videos online has been useful for weekly family gatherings, and I’ve only recently been introduced to House Party to try using as a virtual pub while waiting for others to join; sadly, we had to provide the drinks ourselves!

I’ve been incredibly impressed with the speed at which Facebook Kibworth coronavirus support groups sprang up. From speaking to people queuing outside the Co-op I know that not everyone is a Facebook user, so the parish councils asked me to help by creating a Kibworth coronavirus portal on the website.  This is intended as an adjunct not instead of, so includes details of the Facebook groups, the sterling volunteering work from The Well distributing food and hot meals provided by The Railway Arms, and a whole lot more including regular updates that I receive from the NHS, county and district councils, a link to the MP’s own coronavirus specific webpages and news about the latest scams.

So in conclusion, I believe we must be conscious that there can be no going back to what went before. The world has changed; whether for the better or whether the problems will just re-emerge none of us know.  I sincerely hope the world will change for the better.