Peterborough council meetings branded ‘superspreading events’ by city councillor after several Covid cases recorded following meeting

A Peterborough city councillor has branded council meetings in the city as ‘superspreading events’ after a recent council meeting was followed by several members testing positive for Covid.

By Ben Jones
Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 5:00 am
Updated Thursday, 17th March 2022, 2:44 pm
Cllr Nick Sandford at a recent council meeting at Sandmartin House.
Cllr Nick Sandford at a recent council meeting at Sandmartin House.

Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Nick Sandford, has made the claim after he said around 20 people are believed to have tested positive for Covid following the full council meeting at Sand Martin House earlier this month (March 2).

On Thursday (March 10), the Children and Education Scrutiny Committee meeting was cancelled, which the Peterborough Telegraph understands was due to lack of availability of councillors due to positive tests.

Cllr Sandford and Green Party Group Leader, Cllr Julie Howell, have confirmed that they returned positive tests following the meeting, as has the Peterborough Telegraph’s Local Democracy Reporter Rob Alexander.

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Emergency legislation from the government that allowed council meetings to be held remotely due to the pandemic was not continued into June 2021 and therefore all council meetings must now be held in person.

The council has also held hybrid meetings during the pandemic, which involve members attending in person as well as via video link.

Members that join the meeting online are allowed to participate in debates but not cast votes.

Cllr Sandford has called for the return of such meetings and suggested the council should also consider a return to the old meeting chamber in the town hall, which has not been used since before the start of the pandemic.

He said: “I was quite fortunate I was not hit too badly but these full council meetings are becoming superspreader events. A lot of councillors are quite active in their communities and they may come to these meetings, not be aware they have picked it up and pass it around their wards unknowingly.

“I know members of the public that came to the meeting just to ask a question and have ended up testing positive and becoming quite ill. I though the council may have postponed the committee meetings the following week and I told the chief executive I thought the meetings being held the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were a bit irresponsible.

“In the early days of the pandemic, the tables were spaced two metres apart but at the meeting I was at a table no further than half a metre apart from the councillor next to me.

“I think we should consider moving back to the old chamber. I know there were problems such as the lighting but it has tall ceilings and big windows that could be opened.”

The guidance for councillors using the building remains that masks should be worn when walking around the building but can be removed once sat at your desk.

Cllr Sandford and Cllr Howell have both, however, expressed their desire to see the council adopt a more flexible policy to holding in person meetings.

Cllr Howell said: “It is clear that the Government’s insistence that full council meetings must be held in person is putting people at risk of catching or spreading COVID.

“What would help would be a return to hybrid meetings, with councillors who choose not to attend in person retaining the right to vote remotely.”

Cllr Sandford added: “I think the government needs to be a bit more flexible, hybrid meetings can take place in parliament so why can we not have them for council meetings?”

A spokesperson for Peterborough City Council said: “Earlier in the pandemic legislation changed to allow meetings to be held remotely, however, this legislation was not continued past 7 May and therefore we must hold all council meetings in person.

“Since the announcement of the Government’s Living with COVID-19 strategy we have continued to maintain stringent infection-control measures at our Sand Martin House offices, including health and safety risk assessments for meetings, effective ventilation, social distancing, provision of hand sanitisers, regular cleaning and asking our staff and members to wear a face covering when moving around.

“We have also asked staff and members to test regularly and stay at home if they are unwell or test positive.

“Despite national restrictions being removed we make sure our procedures follow the latest government guidance. Covid rates remain high in the city and we always urge caution, both within our buildings and in the wider community.”