THE majority of councillors will be told to stay away from a meeting of Hertfordshire County Council next week – as part of a package of ‘urgent changes’ designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

All 77 county councillors had expected to meet ‘in-person’ in the council chamber at County Hall for the meeting, on Tuesday (December 14).

But following the government’s decision to move to ‘Plan B’, council officials and political group leaders have decided to limit the number of councillors to 21.

In addition, the agenda will be cut short – and limited only to items ‘deemed strictly necessary’.

And motions will either be referred to alternative panels for consideration or withdrawn.

Meanwhile a meeting of the council’s cabinet – scheduled for Monday – will be held immediately before the meeting of the ‘full council’ instead.

The measures are designed to reduce the risk of transmission amongst councillors and council staff – by reducing numbers and increasing social distancing.

And commenting on the plans, the county council’s chief legal officer Quentin Baker said:  “This is a common-sense measure in line with the new guidelines to ensure that we can still continue with important decision-making and democratic functions”.

The changes have been agreed by leaders of each political group.

And the numbers attending will reflect the proportion of the groups on the council – with 12 Conservatives, six Liberal Democrats, two Labour and one Independent/Green.

At this stage, it is thought the agenda will be limited to chairman’s announcements; the ‘six-month rule’; the minerals and waste local plan and development scheme; and constitutional changes arising from senior officer restructure.

It may also include any items that may be necessary as a result of the government’s ‘Plan B’.

From the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) until May this year, councils were allowed to hold meetings virtually – after being given temporary powers as part of the government’s Coronavirus regulations.

But despite a High Court bid by Hertfordshire County Council to allow all meetings to continue virtually after May 7, councils had been told to return to face-to-face meetings.

And since then the county council has held all decision-making meetings – that fall within the scope of the Local Government Act 1972 – in person.

But cabinet panels – which have an advisory role – have continued to be held virtually.

In May and July the meetings of the full council were held in the Gordon Craig Theatre, in Stevenage – which was large enough for all councillors to attend and to observe social distancing.

But in October meetings of the full county council moved back to the council chamber, in County Hall.