Background Information

Aims of the strategy

To ensure that all formal full council, cabinet and committee meetings held remotely are transparent and accessible to residents, organisations/stakeholders, and town and parish councils.

Context to the proposal

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the council has had to put in place measures to enable the council’s decision making processes to continue whilst keeping safe members of the public, councillors and council employees in accordance with the Government and Public Health England’s guidance on social distancing and in accordance with new regulations for holding committee meetings from remote locations.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic lock the council did not live stream its committee meetings, other than full council, and Democratic Services had been investigating the options for webcasting.  The live streaming of meetings was therefore a new service in response to the lockdown rules and the publication of new regulations to enable the holding of virtual committee meetings.  

Intelligence and communication

Data, information, evidence and research and how it has been used to influence the decision making process

The need to enable remote decision-making has come about due to the current COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the council complies with the Government and Public Health England guidance on social distancing ensuring the safety, health and welfare of members of the public, elected members and officers wishing to take part in or observe the democratic decision making process. 

However, due to the pace at which this change to our decision-making processes has been required, it has not been possible to carry out a comprehensive consultation exercise.  The current regulations enabling “remote” meetings are only in force until 7 May 2021.  Should legislation be made enabling remote meetings beyond this date, and there is an option to return to meetings in person, consultation will be undertaken on this way of working. 

The council has always ensured that its meetings are accessible to anyone wishing to take part, observe and, in some case, review meetings after the event with live-streaming, with accessible locations and any reasonable adjustments that we are able to make to enable people to attend, listen and/or take part in the democratic decision making of the council.  It is important to bear in mind that full council, cabinet and committee meetings are “meetings in public” and not “public meetings”. 

Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has required the council to work quickly to restart its democratic decision making processes, using available technology to ensure that the council complies with Government and Public Health England advice on social distancing, preventing any physical attendance by members, employees and the public.  In ensuring that the council meets these all-important social distancing requirements, it’s clear that some of our residents/communities may not be able to access the meeting as it is taking place.  However, all meetings will be live-streamed and recorded, enabling people with internet access to view proceedings either live or after the event. 

It is also acknowledged that prior to the lockdown some residents would have attended the committee meetings in person at County Hall or South Walks House and those members of the public may not have the technology at home or the ability to access the recorded meetings whilst the public libraries are closed.     

The council has information about councillors provided in surveys that they have completed with regard to age and, more recently, members have been asked to identify if they consider themselves to be in a particular “at risk” category that may preclude them from physically attending a meeting if social distancing measures remain in place, albeit at a more relaxed level (as of May 2020, there are 27 councillors out of 82 classed as clinically vulnerable).  The council is researching whether it would be possible to hold “hybrid” meetings with some people in physical attendance and some in remote attendance.  

To ensure that public participation is maintained, the council has enabled members and residents to ask questions of the council by submitting their questions in writing in advance of the meeting.  Whilst not ideal, this enables the council to be held accountable for its decisions/actions.  Where there is a statutory requirement for someone to be able to ask questions in person, or answer questions posed by members, i.e. at Licensing Sub-Committees and School Admission and Transport appeals, the council is using a piece of software that will enable a member of the public to participate using software or calling in from a mobile or landline telephone.

Data we already have about our service users ot those the proposal will have an impact on

Current data on councillors who are clinically vulnerable has indicated that a large proportion of the councillors need to be shielded and longer term proposals for virtual meetings may need to be considered into the summer months and beyond.

Engagement or consultation has taken place as part of this EqIA

The need to introduce remote meetings at pace has meant that it hasn’t been possible to undertake a consultation exercise with members of the public, although the council has engaged with members and officers who will be required to participate remotely to ensure that they have the necessary software and skills and knowledge to work in this way. 

Democratic services officers investigated how other councils were holding virtual meetings and advice was also available from several organisations including the Local Government Association. 

Webinars held by Cornerstone Barristers on remote meetings have also been viewed (https://cornerstonebarristers.com/news/remote-meetings-faqs/). 

The council has considered all software available and has currently opted for MS Teams and MS Teams Live Events as these form part of our current software licensing arrangements and offer the best security to the council to prevent breaches of our information governance rules. 

Whilst it is appreciated that this technological solution does not enable anyone without a computer/smart phone to watch the meetings, minutes summarising the debate and setting out any decisions will be drafted after the meeting and can be provided, upon request, to anyone without a facility to watch the live broadcast or view the minutes on the Dorset Council website.  

Assessment

Impacts of the strategy 

impacts table
Impacts on who or what  Effect Details  
 Age

Positive for working age people

Unclear for older people

There may be some positive impact for younger people or working age people who generally do not attend committee meetings during the day due to work or caring commitments but they will be able to observe the meetings live or via recordings.

There may be some positive impact for younger people or working age people who generally do not attend committee meetings during the day due to work or caring commitments but they will be able to observe the meetings live or via recordings.

The impact for older people is unclear as they may not have access to the internet at home or have poor wifi connectivity.

Positive for all age groups who would have previously had to travel to Dorchester in order to attend meetings particularly if they did not drive, have access to a car or had to rely on public transport. 

Disability: (including physical, mental, sensory and progressive conditions) Unclear  n/a
Does this affect a specific disability group? Yes 

For some people with a disability, virtual meetings will have a positive impact as there will be no need to travel and they will be able to observe meetings easily from their home. 

Current legislation suggests that we only have to provide audio for the meeting to be legally constituted.  However, we are using technology which also allows visual elements too such as PowerPoint presentations and video of the speaker.

Each speaker identifies themselves before speaking or presenting, which is helpful for people with visual impairments. 

The live meetings will have captions appear on the screen which will be of benefit for those that have hearing difficulties which are not available for meetings in person. 
The recordings of meetings are being added to the committee webpage and include automatic subtitles via the YouTube service which will be of benefit for those that have hearing difficulties. 
However, the Council is using the Microsoft Teams platform for its virtual meetings and the accessibility of this platform is unclear, for example there may be people with specific disabilities such as epilepsy who could find accessing Teams challenging. 

Gender Reassignment & Gender Identity Religion or belief / Sexual orientation / Sex (consider both men and women) /  Marriage or civil partnership Neutral There is no assessed significant impact on this protected characteristic group.
Pregnancy and maternity  Positive Someone who is pregnant or on maternity leave can chose to watch the recording of the remote meeting at a time to suit them.  Virtual meetings will have a positive impact as there will be no need to travel and they will be able to observe meetings easily from their home, whether this be live or the recording of the meeting.

For some people with a disability, virtual meetings will have a positive impact as there will be no need to travel and they will be able to observe meetings easily from their home. 
Current legislation suggests that we only have to provide audio for the meeting to be legally constituted.  However, we are using technology which also allows visual elements too such as PowerPoint presentations and video of the speaker. Each speaker identifies themselves before speaking or presenting, which is helpful for people with visual impairments. 
The live meetings will have captions appear on the screen which will be of benefit for those that have hearing difficulties which are not available for meetings in person. 
The recordings of meetings are being added to the committee webpage and include automatic subtitles via the YouTube service which will be of benefit for those that have hearing difficulties. 
However, the Council is using the Microsoft Teams platform for its virtual meetings and the accessibility of this platform is unclear, for example there may be people with specific disabilities such as epilepsy who could find accessing Teams challenging. 
Race and ethnicity Unclear This will be in English language and we don’t currently have a facility to translate. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic there were no facilities to provide translations for committee meetings. 

Carers Positive  Someone who has caring responsibilities can chose to watch the recording of the remote meeting at a time to suit them.  Virtual meetings will have a positive impact as there will be no need to travel and they will be able to observe meetings easily from their home, whether this be live or the recording of the meeting. 
Rural isolation  Unclear The move to virtual meetings may help people who live in the rural parts of the county as they will not have to travel to attend meetings and will be able to participate and observe from home.  However, the new format of meetings is dependent on good Wi-Fi connection which can be an issue for some people in rural settings.
Single parent families  Positive Someone who has parental responsibilities can chose to watch the recording of the remote meeting at a time to suit them.  Virtual meetings will have a positive impact as there will be no need to travel and they will be able to observe meetings easily from their home, whether this be live or the recording of the meeting.
Social and economic deprivation Negative Those who are in economic deprivation may not be able to afford technology or devices to participate in committee meetings and other organisations that would normally assist and provide computer access such as libraries are closed. As the libraries begin to open as the lockdown restrictions ease people will be able to access the internet.

Armed forces communities Positive If a member of the armed forces has been deployed overseas or elsewhere in the country they will be able to watch committee meetings via the internet.

Key to impacts

Type of impact Definition
Positive impact 
  • the proposal eliminates discrimination, advances equality of opportunity and/or fosters good relations with protected groups.
Negative impact 
  • protected characteristic group(s) could be disadvantaged or discriminated against
Neutral impact
  • no change/ no assessed significant impact of protected characteristic groups
Unclear 
  • not enough data/evidence has been collected to make an informed decision.

Action plan

action plan table
Issue Action to be taken Person(s) responsible Date to be completed by

Disability

Ensure access to live-streaming of meetings and the recording of meetings is widely advertised. 

Ensure that the requirement to meet the deadline for submission of questions is clearly advertised. 

Hayley Caves 

Susan Dallison

31 July 20

Questions from the public going into the quarantine box rather than inbox of the democratic services officer

 

To investigate solutions to this issue, related to how the council’s IT system deals with emails and why some go into the quarantine box.

Susan Dallison

31 July 20

Disability

 

The council has adopted MS Teams but the council is still understanding how this works and how accessible it is for people.

Consider emerging issues around MS Teams including accessibility. 

Jacqui Andrews

31 August 20

Communications Plan

 

Consider putting a comms plan in place for the advertising of virtual committee meetings.

Jacqui Andrews/Jen Lowis

31 July 20

 Who has agreed the EQIA?

Who has agreed the EQIA? table
Role Name Date
Officer completing this EqIA:

Jacqui Andrews

22 June 2020

Equality Lead:

Susan Ward-Rice

3 July 2020

Equality & Diversity Action Group Chair:

Rick Perry

3 July 2020

 

Diversity and Inclusion Officer - Dorset Council

Name: Susan Ward-Rice
Email: susan.ward-rice@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk
Tel: 01305 224368
Full contact details

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