An opposition party has accused the ruling Lib Dems of threatening to bring Covid-infected councillors to a meeting if it wasn’t taken online.
City of York Council’s chief operating officer initially agreed to move tonight’s full council online following a series of Covid cases among the ruling administration.
But in the light of the row it has now been adjourned.
The row grew increasingly acrimonious today, as:
- a leading councillor called on the government to investigate the ‘unjustifiable’ decision
- an independent councillor is boycotting the ‘morally bankrupt’ meeting
- the ruling Lib Dems accused Labour of ‘endangering people’s health for political gain’.
Around six ruling councillors either have Covid or are close contacts of positive cases, it is believed. Such a number would have left the ruling administration vulnerable to losing votes.
The council’s director of governance Janie Berry told councillors in an email that there was “a risk that some of these could be in attendance” at Full Council.
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Labour Group leader Pete Kilbane said:
We have been informed that the reality is that if senior officers insisted on this meeting taking place in person, then Lib Dem Councillors infected with Covid would attend the meeting. The leader’s public comments confirm this.
This is tantamount to using Covid as a threat, casting further doubt over [Lib Dem leader] Cllr Aspden’s fitness to lead this great city.
But leading Lib Dem Nigel Ayre hit back, saying:
We are clear that it would not be appropriate for councillors who are still infectious to attend an in-person meeting despite current government guidance. It is our responsibility as elected members to protect the public and represent the views of our residents.
It is disappointing the Labour group advocated endangering the health of councillors, staff and the public for purely selfish political gain.
Written to Michael Gove
At the crux of the row is whether this was an appropriate use of the emergency powers of council chief operating officer Ian Floyd.
Michael Pavlovic is a Labour councillor but also chair of the influential audit and governance committee, which scrutinises how the council behaves.
He has called on cabinet minister Michael Gove to urgently investigate the governance of York council in the light of this decision.
In a letter to the chief officer, Cllr Pavolic wrote: “I cannot see, either in the current council constitution or in legislation, the authority you have applied to assume power when council would be quorate, even with the possible sickness absences.
“Invoking the emergency powers of the chief operating officer, when this is clearly not an emergency situation, is not in my opinion legally or constitutionally justifiable.”
Government legislation does not allow for councils to hold decision-making meetings remotely. It means tonight’s meeting will be ‘informal’, with the council’s chief operating officer, Ian Floyd, given the power to ratify those decisions.
Meanwhile the independent councillor for Osbaldwick Mark Warters said he would have boycotted the online meeting.
He would “not be giving this latest unlawful, virtual gathering any credence by participating”.
He added: “I have no doubt that the whole morally bankrupt set up of senior officers and executive members will support one another in trying to pass off this latest unlawful meeting as acceptable but I don’t want to be part of it.”