I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, not a huge fan of Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Setting aside the suggestions that his integrity might not be wholly unsullied, my problem is that he doesn't necessarily understand how local government works.
As a small (but perfectly formed) Parish Council, we have been permitted to hold our meetings online, and it has gone fairly well so far. I am, admittedly, somewhat uncomfortable about the fact that online meetings effectively exclude those who either don't have, or don't want, the required technology. But, if you can't meet anyone from outside of your household, there is little option other than to abandon having the Parish Council meet at all. And, given that we've had three controversial planning applications in the past year, that really wouldn't be appropriate.
Our year revolves around two things, the setting of an annual precept, which we do in January, and the Annual Parish and Annual Parish Council Meetings, which generally take place in May.
The Annual Parish Meeting must take place between 1 March and 1 June and has a general power to discuss parish affairs and pass resolutions, although any such resolution shall not bind the Parish Council. In Creeting St Peter, it tends to be an opportunity for our representatives, including myself as Chair, to submit reports to the residents.
The Annual Parish Council Meeting must take place in May, unless it's an election year, in which case it must take place four days after the election or within fourteen days thereafter. Not unreasonably, for convenience, we tend to combine the two, running them consecutively. We elect our Chair then, although here, there doesn't tend to be a contest.
They're not generally very exciting affairs, which is kind of consistent with the fact that we don't do that much, but the whole village is invited and can attend if they see fit.
We're due to meet on 17 May, which complies with the legislative framework under normal circumstances. That is, if you ignore the small detail of a global pandemic, something that Robert Jenrick appears inclined to do. You see, I was going to get round to him eventually.
So, here's my problem. I must, by law, convene a meeting. The legislation allowing me to do it remotely expires on 7 May, so I could move the meeting forward by two weeks to allow it to take place virtually. Unfortunately, that means that our Parish Clerk would need to be available, and she isn't.
There is only one possible venue for any physical meeting, the Church Room which, conveniently, is in the village, rather than at the church, half a mile away. Unfortunately, the Church Room isn't that large, has only one narrow entrance, and would barely hold the Parish Council if the two metre rule is to be applied, which it must be until at least 21 June. I have to say that a risk assessment offers all sorts of unhelpful challenges.
It is suggested that we offer remote access to the public, but given that any technology would have to run off of the available mobile signal, and we'd need to have access to sufficient technology to make it work (and we don't), it does make rather a farce of the thing.
Thus I am left with the insidious choice of breaking the law either by delaying the meeting until after 21 June, by effectively excluding the public or by abandoning the two metre rule.
And all because the Government can't find the time to pass a simple enabling piece of legislation which would be utterly uncontroversial. It looks like we'll be seeing you in court, Mr Jenrick...