Most of Cannock Chase District Council’s meetings currently take place in the afternoon, including cabinet and scrutiny committee sessions.
However at neighbouring authorities such as Stafford, South Staffordshire and Lichfield, evening meetings are more commonplace – and Cannock Chase is set to follow suit after changes were backed by cabinet members.
The move, which is being recommended to the full council for approval, would mean cabinet, scrutiny committees, audit and governance committee and standards committee meetings would start at a later time of 6pm from September. Planning and licensing committee sessions are set to stay in their daytime slots for the time being.
Full council meetings have already been moved to 6pm and members feel this has made them more accessible for both councillors and residents.
Benefits have also been seen from the live broadcast of meetings online for residents to view remotely. This measure was brought in last year when coronavirus control measures meant meetings moved from the council chamber to being conducted online.
Although the allowance for councils to hold remote meetings came to an end in May, Cannock Chase Council is now investigating ways to continue broadcasting online to the public.
A report to Thursday’s cabinet meeting said: “Although the council has some audio-visual facilities in the council chamber and meeting rooms, these are intended for the purposes of presentations in person, rather than broadcasting or live-streaming. At the moment, meetings are being live-streamed where possible through temporary set-ups of camera and microphone; however, this is by no means an ideal situation.
“Further investigation will need to be undertaken to establish the potential costs of a dedicated audio-visual installation for the purposes of web-casting/holding hybrid meetings in the council chamber and other meeting rooms. The costs and implications will be reported back in due course to members.”
Cabinet members also backed plans to issue councillors with laptops or tablets and scrap the “communications allowance”, which is currently available for costs such as printing paper copies of meeting agendas.
A phased approach to issuing new and re-elected members with devices was previously agreed earlier this year under the council’s previous administration, with existing members given the option to make the move or stay with the allowance system, but the move to a “paperless” system is now set to be accelerated.
Council leader Olivia Lyons said: “It is something we discussed in detail in the alternative budget in February.
“We talked in detail about the climate crisis and the need to move towards carbon neutrality. Having papers for every meeting doesn’t align with those ambitions as a council to show our commitment to environmental concerns.
“Members will recall that full council was moved from 4pm to 6pm – something we supported at the time. We are proposing going further and requesting additional consideration to be given to starting scrutiny committee meetings at 6pm.
“I feel the later start time for meetings enables people who are working or juggling family commitments to participate. It might encourage more people to stand for council, which is positive.
“We appreciate there are certain meetings where it is going to be more of a challenge such as planning and licensing, due to frequency of third party participation.”