Midlothian Council remote meetings continue amid concern at cost of hybrid plans

Councillors in Midlothian will continue to meet virtually until the summer break after calling the cost of setting up hybrid meetings ‘prohibitive’.
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A meeting of the newly-elected councillors this week was told that it would cost £200,000 to set up a new system for hybrid meetings, which allow some people to attend physically while others can take part via the internet, with annual costs of £96,000.

In contrast, officials revealed that a previous webcasting service which councillors axed just prior to the country going into lockdown, had cost them just £11,000 a year to run.

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A report on the options facing the council as it moves forward said that returning to physical meetings in the council chamber or continuing to meet remote via Microsoft Teams would not incur additional costs.

Midlothian councillors meeting virtually online.Midlothian councillors meeting virtually online.
Midlothian councillors meeting virtually online.

But it said hybrid meetings would need additional investment.

Councillor Derek Milligan (Lab) led a motion calling for a cross party working group to be set up to investigate what other organisations are doing before any decision is made.

He told a virtual meeting of the council: “The cost of this is absolutely prohibitive and way above what anyone expected.”

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He called for meetings to continue to be held virtually until the summer recess to allow them to look into what other organisations are doing and “see if there are any good lessons to be learned”.

Council leader Councillor Kelly Parry (SNP) seconded the motion adding: “I fully endorse Councillor Milligan’s comments around the cost.

“Of course, we do have to balance that with being able to access meetings, to make the council as accessible as it can be.

“There might be other costs and savings to be made in terms of people’s time and travel to and from meetings.

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“I’m particularly conscious of council employees at the moment who face the same cost of living crisis that everybody else does so fully support that we take that into account.”

Council officials had recommended the Televic Confidea Flex system which is, they said, being used by other UK local authorities, hearing panels and the European Parliament to provide the hybrid meeting requirements.

Their report said: “The indicative capital costs of the identified hybrid meeting solution are currently estimated at £200,000.”

Midlothian Council had used a webcast service for full council and planning committee meetings up until 2020 when it was agreed to cut the service as part of cost-cutting measures.

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The decision was taken earlier in the financial year before any indications of the pandemic or resulting lockdowns and change to working practices.

The report said: “This (the new system) would require an additional provision of £21,500 to be included in the current year’s revenue budget and additional provision of £96,500 made in future year’s budgets.

“In contrast the previous webcasting contract had an annual operatingcost of circa £11,000.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​