TWO councillors of a newly-formed group have called upon its authority to "get democracy moving again" after a slow move to online meetings.

The Green Party and Independent Group in Richmondshire District Council, made up of Councillors Leslie Rowe and Kevin Foster, said it has now been more than two months since councillors last met for a meeting.

But council leaders say they have been working hard to ensure the technology is "safe and secure" and that everyone is trained in how to use it.

Cllr Rowe said: “It is nearly two months since the Government passed emergency legislation to allow councils to hold their meetings online, but Richmondshire have still not run a full meeting.

"Tuesday, May 19 should have been the council’s annual general meeting, but Richmondshire District Council has only just got councillors online for a test meeting this week."

"No date has yet been set for the AGM. The power to hold public meetings virtually using video conferencing was given on April 4.

"Richmondshire District Council has at least chosen their system – Zoom – the same system that is used by millions of people in the UK to chat, hold quizzes and other virtual meetings.

"It’s not rocket science – children and old people alike find it easy to use. Both the 650 members of the House of Commons and hundreds more in the House of Lords, where the average age is 70, have been using video conferencing since April 21.

"But a month later, Richmondshire District Council, with just 24 members, is still refusing to hold virtual meetings nor confirm the dates when meetings of the council will recommence.”

Cllr Foster added: “I made representation to RDC about online meetings and I am very disappointed that we have not held one yet.

"I find it odd that Colburn Town Council have had two meetings via Zoom and the leader of the Richmondshire District Council Cllr Angie Dale was voted Mayor of Colburn at a Zoom online meeting on Monday, May 18. Yet the district council, which she leads, has not held a meeting yet."

"There is a clear democratic deficit in the running of the council at the moment," added Councillor Rowe.

Council leader, Councillor Angie Dale, said: “Since March the way Richmondshire District Council operates has been completely transformed with most staff now working from home safely and all our frontline services maintained. That has involved a huge shift in our IT operations and for that I thank the officers involved.

“As far as the democratic process goes we are in the same position as councils across the country in relying on emergency powers to make decisions until member decision making can be re-established.

"We intend to get back to holding member meetings but only once we can be sure that everyone is trained in the system we will use – and more importantly that the technology is safe and secure. We are aware that some authorities have come unstuck with security issues when they have held virtual meetings and we do not want to be in that position.

“Testing and training is currently underway with a view to restarting meetings in June – and there will be an annual meeting even though regulations have removed the need to do so for this civic year."

Richmondshire District Council will hold its first virtual meeting next week.

Planning committee councillors will meet on June 2 through the Zoom system.

To follow the meeting log on here.