Local democracy takes a hit as council and other public bodies in Milton Keynes respond to coronavirus outbreak

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Local elections due in May were one of the first political postponements of the coronavirus pandemic, with a decision to hold off until 2021.

But since the decision was made earlier this month to put off borough, parish, and police and crime commissioner polls, a whole host of meetings have been rubbed out.

And it’s not just at Milton Keynes Council, where scrutiny meetings – at which councillors probe the inner workings of the budget and policies – have bitten the dust.

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The Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel, due to meet today (Friday) to consider a complaint against outgoing police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld, has fallen by the wayside.

Milton Keynes Council is focusing on keeping public services going during the pandemicMilton Keynes Council is focusing on keeping public services going during the pandemic
Milton Keynes Council is focusing on keeping public services going during the pandemic

Members of the panel, made up of councillors from across the Thames Valley, including Cllr Robin Bradburn (Lib Dem, Bradwell) representing Milton Keynes, were told that the government’s announcement regarding “non-essential travel” and social distancing.

Many members of the panel had already passed on their apologies.

Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is the NHS body which pays for many health services, including MK Hospital. The CCG board meets every two months and in normal circumstances welcomes the public and press.

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But the CCG has decided to hold its meetings, held at its offices in Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, in private “until further notice”. A meeting was due on Tuesday, March 24.

A statement on its website reads: “Until further notice, all governing body meetings will be held in private to facilitate the response of clinical members to the COVID19 outbreak.

“The CCG will be holding the scheduled Governing Body meeting on March 24 in private. This shorter private meeting is in response to the coronavirus outbreak, as it will reduce the risk of transmission and help clinical attendees focus on their response to the outbreak.”

A meeting of the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority’s ruling executive committee has also been cancelled.

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Councillors had been due to discuss the gender pay gap and senior management pay and performance reviews, as well as its employee bonus scheme.

Milton Keynes Council has also tweaked how it makes decisions to make sure they can still be made if the pandemic hits.

Council leader Cllr Pete Marland (Lab, Wolverton) told Wednesday’s meeting of the full council that all “non critical executive decisions of the council beyond papers already published” have been suspended.

And he has given senior council officers the right to make decisions if members of the cabinet are absent. Cllr Marland took all the decisions himself at a delegated decisions meeting on Tuesday.

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A similar meeting for Tuesday, March 24, and meetings of the development control committee, where planning decisions are made, as of today (Friday, March 20) remain on the schedule.

The council has also established a Financial Approval Board to speed up money decisions. It is being overseen by the elected head of resources and innovation, Cllr Rob Middleton (Lab, Wolverton).