THE leaders of England’s largest council by area are to consider making representatives return to face-to-face meetings, despite online meetings leading to councillors claiming 131,338 miles fewer miles a year in expenses.

North Yorkshire County Council is among a small number of local authorities continuing to hold public decision-making meetings and debates online following the easing of pandemic restrictions, with its chief executive using emergency powers to approve councillors’ recommendations.

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With the regulations which allowed virtual meetings to make decisions no longer in force, the council’s leadership has repeatedly stated it wants flexibility to hold some meetings online and others in person.

However, the government has given no indication whether it would support fresh legislation for councils to decide how they hold their meetings.

A meeting of the authority’s executive on Tuesday will hear 141 committee meetings were staged online and publicly broadcast in the 15-months to August.

While few non-committee members attended the vast majority of the council’s meetings before the pandemic, each online meeting has attracted an average of 60 views.

The council has calculated the online meetings led to 131,338 miles less mileage being claimed by councillors, saving £55,221, and an estimated 668 fewer working days being spent travelling to meetings.

The authority, which is working towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030, has concluded resulting annual carbon dioxide emissions savings of online meetings is the equivalent of taking about 70 cars off the road.

 Nevertheless, it is understood some leading councillors are unhappy with continuing to burden the authority’s chief executive, Richard Flinton, with the responsibility for all decisions, particularly ones that are politically sensitive.

An officer’s report states it will be up to the executive to make a recommendation to the full council in November.

It states: “The county council has a leadership role to play.

"As such, there is a question as to whether, as part of a return to more normal, pre- pandemic ways of living and working, the council should be leading by example and hold committee meetings in person once again.”

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The report concludes committee meetings could be held in a Covid-safe way and accommodated in the Council Chamber at County Hall, with the exception of full authority meetings to which 72 elected members are obliged to attend, and the health scrutiny and planning committees, which can attract significant public interest.

The issue has come under the spotlight just two weeks after the Government’s Covid-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan 2021 was published, which stated if the NHS comes under sustained pressure the government would advise people to work from home.

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