Technological landmark for democracy in Oxfordshire

Democracy in Oxfordshire has recently passed a landmark moment with committee meetings being staged electronically for the first time ever.

A meeting of all county councillors was recently staged (May 4) using Microsoft Teams with councillors joining the debate from in front of their computers and laptops in the safety of their own homes.

A small number of other meetings have taken place including Cabinet Member for Environment Yvonne Constance’s decision meetings. A gradual resumption of meetings is planned in coming weeks using the same technology.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council said: “With social distancing guidelines in place for the foreseeable future there is no way we can hold a full council meeting in the traditional sense – with 63 county councillors tightly packed into the council chamber at County Hall.

“Similarly our other committees involve council officers, councillors, members of the public and journalists being in rooms in which it would be virtually impossible to abide by social distancing guidelines.

“Our full council meeting on Microsoft Teams was an excellent first attempt at conducting the county council’s equivalent of parliament in a very different way.

“Had the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world at  any time before recent years we would not have had the technology to do what we are doing and democracy would have had to be brought to a halt entirely.

“Our IT team have performed wonders in getting us to the stage at which we are able to do this and the fact that we have 98 per cent Super-Fast Broadband coverage in Oxfordshire also helps. We will be conducting cabinet and other meetings via Microsoft Teams as well.

“I’m sure we still have a lot to learn and there’ll still be issues to iron out. However our first full council meeting using this format was a real landmark moment.

Historic moment

Councillor Les Sibley oversaw the recent meeting of the full council in his role as Chairman of Oxfordshire County Council. He said: “Back in May 2019 when I assumed this role I could never have imagined my year in office would end in this way.

“We are meeting the challenges presented to us at the county council and I look forward to future meetings being conducted online. I also look forward to being able to be safely in the same room with my fellow county councillors so that we can debate in the way that we always have. I’m sure we’ll also want to reflect on the technological lessons of this period in our lives as they might apply to democracy. However for now we can be pleased that the first historic online full meeting of Oxfordshire County Council has successfully taken place. ”