IT issues turned an important council meeting into a “shambles” according to a county councillor who said it “made a mockery” of local democracy.
Denbighshire council’s full meeting of its 47 members was held remotely but descended into farce after key speakers couldn’t be heard.
It has been difficult for public bodies to maintain remote meetings which can be accessed by the public and press during the pandemic, because of connectivity issues.
During most meetings councillors have been forced to switch their cameras off because of problems with local internet access, which the council has no control over.
All local authorities have been told by Welsh Government to move to hybrid meeting solutions, which would allow a mix of physical and virtual attendance for key committees.
However the limitations of meeting remotely were highlighted during Cllr Paul Penlington’s attempt to establish what proposals had been submitted to UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund on behalf of the county council.
He called the ensuing debate a “shambles” and claimed he would have expected any technological issues to have been sorted out.
It later transpired the broadcast with English translation had suffered some gremlins.
In his largely unheard question at full council on Tuesday, which he emailed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) afterwards, Cllr Penlington said members were only given seven days to submit ideas for the fund, worth up to £20m per constituency.
He asked: “How many proposals have been received from members, who submitted them, the details of each proposal, and what will the process now be for considering which proposals will be developed for submission to the local fund allocation?”
The answer by council leader Cllr Hugh Evans was also largely unheard because of the technological issues and several councillors interjected to let chair Cllr Alan James know about it.
Speaking to the LDRS Cllr Penlington said: “The failure of DCC’s electronic meeting system made a mockery of this important point this morning and local democracy generally.
“We never really heard the answers properly. After well over a year of working remotely you would think any technical problems would have been resolved by now.”
Cllr Penlington claimed the allocation process for the Levelling Up Fund cash, which would see local projects decided by Westminster, had “subsumed” local democracy.
He said: “The promised £20 million must be allocated to projects which can be delivered by March 2024, co-incidentally just before the next general election.
“The continued longevity of this funding is unknown as it hasn’t been set out yet, making properly thought out local authority planning for it very difficult.”
He added: “Local democracy is being blackmailed into complying with Westminster decisions which will only ultimately benefit the Conservative MP not the people of Denbighshire.
“It is vital local members have the chance to scrutinise this process, and make decisions, in full consultation with our residents.”
A spokesperson for Denbighshire County Council said: “The English language webcast of today’s full council meeting unfortunately experienced unexpected technical issues for some attendees and members of the public.
“The webcast from the council’s Welsh website and the simultaneous English language interpretation of Welsh speakers on the English webcast were unaffected.
“The council is currently looking into the cause of the technical problems and would like to apologise for the disruption caused.”