Under the last Government there was an intriguing proposal from the then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears for councillors to be allowed to vote remotely at council meetings. They could be watching TV in their sitting room or drinking in a pub and use their mobile phone to vote.
In Wales, where Labour are in power, this policy of “coach potato councillors” has been pursued. However it will not be applied to England as this Commons Written Answer confirms:
Bob Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will bring forward legislative proposals to enable remote attendance at meetings of English local authorities under conditions similar to those provided in section 4 provided in the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011.
Brandon Lewis: I note that this ill-conceived idea to allow councillors to vote from the pub or while watching television was endorsed by Labour Ministers in Whitehall (DCLG, ‘The Government Response to the Councillors Commission’, July 2008, p. 16). The measure was never brought to Parliament, given the last Administration dropped their plans for a Community Empowerment Bill.
Ministers in this Government do not support this measure and have no plans to bring forward similar legislation to that implemented by Labour Welsh Ministers. Such a move would risk weakening the clear local accountability and transparency of conducting council business in open public meetings.
Of course, we need to move with changing times and new technologies. So the Local Audit and Accountability Bill will strengthen the ability of the press and public to report council meetings using digital and social media–bringing the public closer to their elected representatives, rather than the Labour approach of making elected representatives more distant and unaccountable.