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Continued lack of in-person council meetings splits opinion in Gwynedd

Questions have been asked ABOUT continued ban on councillors from holding in-person meetings despite children and teachers converging in schools on a daily basis.

With Welsh Government guidelines continuing to ask people to work from home where possible, since March 2020 all Gwynedd Council have been exclusively held online via the Microsoft Teams and  Zoom platforms.

But having spent £130,000 on upgrading 17 chambers and meeting rooms to allow hybrid meetings, the lack of face to face meetings has split opinion despite achieving savings of around £40,000 in mileage and travel costs.

While some, particularly those living further afield from Caernarfon, have welcomed the ability to avoid long journeys to the council headquarters for meetings, others have expressed frustration at the current practice of democracy behind a computer screen.

The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 states that all authorities must adapt their meeting rooms to allow councillors to participate remotely, be it from home or another venue, even if most choose to attend in person.

But despite the authority continuing to act within the requirements of Welsh Government guidance to work from home wherever possible, one senior councillor has claimed that the public are questioning the continued practice.

Speaking during Thursday’s full council meeting, Clynnog councillor Owain Williams said, “People keep questioning why we’re continuing to meet virtually when schools are open, if its right for them why isn’t it right for us?”

Cllr Alwyn Grufydd claimed that Westminster is “packed full of MPs,” adding: “There’s worth in physical meetings, I miss the buzz and the opportunity to discuss prior to and after meetings.

“I understand the concerns of south Meirionnydd members, it is far but that’s the fault of the boundary commission. Its a long and narrow county, the headquarters is in the northern part which means long distances for some.

“All I can offer, tongue in cheek, is there’s a welcome in Tremadog to hold meetings as its more central than anywhere else!”

Cllr Dewi Roberts added, “It seems that the Senedd is already meeting on a Hybrid basis, as is Westminster.

“This legislation on hybrid meetings is important but its just as important that the right is there for those that wish to meet face to face rather than just virtually.”

Cllr Beth Lawton said she was “desperate” for the return of in-person meetings, adding that working and meeting from home could be “isolating” while expressing her wish for in-person meetings to be facilitated before next May’s elections.

But on the flipside, Tywyn councillor Dewi Owen said that meeting virtually meant he could avoid four hour round trips to Caernarfon, and felt it was the “way forward” in attracting younger people and those in full-time employment to become councillors as well as reducing the carbon footprint.

Cllr Eryl Jones-Williams went on to claim that Covid had “forced change” and the introduction of technology, adding it was the “only good thing to come out of the pandemic.”

The Chief Executive, Dafydd Gibbard, said: “The guidelines state that everyone should work from home if they can, in terms of holding meetings we’ve made it over the past 18 months.

“Of course the number of Covid cases in our area is on the rise, so as community leaders we have a responsibility to lead by example and its fair that we continue until the situation improves and we can all convene together again.”

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