OFFICERS are laying the groundwork for the return of at least partially in-person meetings after over a year of all debate being held via video conferencing.
A report presented to Gwynedd’s Democracy Services Committee noted that while it was foreseen that most meetings would continue to be held over Zoom for now, a project was in place to try and eventually enable at least some members to attend in-person.
Meeting in February, it was outlined that as few as five council meetings a year could be held on a face-to-face basis in Gwynedd even after the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
Among the benefits outlined were a reduction in travel and resulting carbon footprint, encouraging more diversity in the council’s membership including younger members, and a more efficient use of councillor and officer time.
The report recommended that only full council meetings, held five times a year and including all 75 members, should be held on a completely face-to-face basis.
But a recent councillor satisfaction survey found that 84% of members preferred committees to be a combination of meetings in the chamber and virtual meetings, with 8% noting chamber meetings only and 8% for virtual meetings only.
During the debate, contributing from home via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms tended to be preferred by those living furthest away from Caernarfon, where the vast majority of council meetings were traditionally held.
But with the county covering 984 square miles, for some councillors the regular journeys can involve round trips of over three hours if representing areas such as Aberdyfi or Aberdaron.
Responding to the survey, one councillor said: “There is definitely a place for virtual meetings, They have their advantages. No travelling, Money saved on travelling expenses. Attend from virtually anywhere.
“But, there is no interaction between members and a lack of dynamics that a live meeting has. I think a mixture of both is here to stay.”
Another wrote: “Virtual meetings do not give members an opportunity to look into the eyes of contributors and this deprives them of the ability to fully appreciate the direction of the discussion.”
Addressing Tuesday’s committee meeting, Cllr Dewi Wyn Roberts said: “Personally my views have changed as time goes on, I was previously more satisfied with Zoom but as time goes on I feel I’m missing out on other things.”
Cllr Anne Lloyd Jones added: “I think we’re all starting to tire a little of Zoom to be honest, despite how convenient it is.
“Looking at a screen all day can scramble your head a little.”
The report, accepted by the committee, noted: “The council must adopt and publish arrangements with provision to enable meetings to be held with people who are not all at the same location.
“Such a meeting could be held purely virtually or as a hybrid meeting which is held at a specific location with provision for remote attendance. Although a meeting can be held purely in a specific location, remote attendance for attendees must be provided for.
“The term ‘hybrid’ is used for these types of meetings, and it is envisaged that they will be a normal occurence in the future.”