Coronavirus sparks council to create new committee

Argyll and Bute council chief executive Pippa Milne

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A special cross-party committee of councillors has been formed to make key decisions as the coronavirus pandemic spreads to Argyll and Bute.

The lockdown restrictions imposed last week have put the kibosh on public council meetings.

However, continuity plans drawn up by council chief executive Pippa Milne were agreed during a special meeting on Tuesday conducted using Skype.

A temporary ‘business continuity’ committee served by a cross-party panel of just nine councillors has been agreed, with plans for it to be in place until the end of June.

It will be chaired by council leader Aileen Morton, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Helensburgh Central.

It will also feature representatives from across the 36-member council chamber including Conservatives, Independents and the Scottish National Party.

Councillor Morton said the COVID-19 pandemic meant the council had to be ready to make changes quickly.

‘Our decision-making process has to be flexible enough to deliver decisions rapidly so that we are doing all we can to protect our employees and communities,’ said Councillor Morton.

‘The changes agreed on Tuesday make it easier to take urgent decisions when needed and to continue progressing the longer term business of the council.’

The committee will temporarily replace and do the work of the council’s numerous committees. Agendas will still be published along with reports and minutes.

The council chief executive also has the authority through the council’s existing constitution to make urgent decisions that would normally go to a committee to be considered.

Councillors agreed to widen the consultation required by the chief executive to now include the leader, depute leader and leader of the opposition, where available.

The report said: ‘There is a risk that, should council and committee meetings continue in their present form that the coronavirus will spread
wider in the community.

‘Council business, including decision making must, however, continue so that there is least impact on service provision.

‘By allowing greater flexibility in the decision-making processes, the council can be confident that it will be able to carry out its functions in a way that creates least risk to public health.’

Most council meetings are required by law to be open to the public.

But Government restrictions on public assemblies has closed public buildings.

It has meant that it would be ‘impossible’ for the public to be present at meetings of the new committee.

It is ‘almost certain there will be no public attendance at these meetings’, said the council report.