Tuesday, July 26, 2022

County Council attendance

The Cumberland News published some analysis on Friday of the attendance figures for members of Cumbria County Council at meetings, with a suggestion that this could be improved if the council went back to meeting "via Zoom."

Actually the council used Teams rather than Zoom but that's not the important point, which is that meeting online has some real advantages for ordinary members of the public who want to follow what their elected representatives are up to but don't have days at a time during office hours to come to Carlisle or Kendal to watch us in person.

A large majority of county councillors do attend the vast majority of meetings we are supposed to get to and indeed the Cumberland News' figures support that view. 

Unlike some other authorities, the county council does not publish collected statistics for attendance - and perhaps it should -  though it does publish who attended each individual meeting, so I presume the paper collated these statistics themselves. The Cumberland News article suggests that the mean county councillor attendance rate had dropped from about 85% of the council and committee meetings which a councillor was expected to attend in the year before the pandemic (2019/20,) to 82% last civic year (2021/22.) 

Attendance had been several points higher during the pandemic when meetings could be attended online.

You can find the Cumberland News article online on the website they share with the News and Star at the link at

Call remote working for Cumbria County councillors as meeting attendance drops | News and Star

The online version includes a table which states how many meetings each councillor was expected to attend and actually attended in the 2021/22 civic year.

I suspect that anyone who digs into that table in more detail will find that in fact the majority of county councillors attend around 90% or more of council and committee meetings they are meant to attend, but that  a few individuals (who come from all groups) drag the average down. That minority of councillors do sometimes have a very good reason - I know for instance that one councillor suffered an extended attack of COVID and some have other serious health conditions - explaining the dip in their attendance.

My own attendance at the county council and its committees has never dropped below 95% in any civic year and has hit 100% more than once. I was one of the eleven councillors credited by the Cumberland News/News & Star with an 100% attendance record in 2021/22.

I have attended every meeting of the full county council since my election in May 2017 (and said something about the A595 at every meeting,) attended every meeting of the Health Scrutiny committee since my election, and I have so far also attended every meeting of the Pensions committee, Chief Officers' committee, Health Scrutiny variations subcommittee, and Cumbria and Lancashire Joint Health Scrutiny committee since my subsequent appointment to those committees. I had to send apologies for one meeting of the Copeland Local Committee five years ago but have been to every meeting of that committee since.

That's a slightly above average attendance record but most county councillors of all parties work very hard and do get to the vast majority of meetings.

There IS a case on grounds of saving public money and providing more accessibility for the public for reinstating the power of councils to hold meetings online and I would support this option being available, but you don't need to argue that it is needed because councillors are not attending the physical meetings. Most of us are.

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