Portishead councillor 'resigns' due to 'bizarre' rule

A small businesses meeting will be held at Portishead Folk Hall on Tuesday.

Caroline Goddard says she has resigned from Portishead Town Council. - Credit: Archant

A Portishead Town Councillor has 'resigned' from her post following a dispute over remote meeting attendances.

Caroline Goddard, of Portishead East, announced on Tuesday (March 29) that she would relinquish her role as a town councillor but continue her role as a councillor for North Somerset Council.

A number of residents had called for Goddard's resignation, along with Polly Shepperdson's and Tina Mason's, following an apparent breach of section 85 of the Local Government Act.

Caroline Goddard and Tina Mason.

Caroline Goddard, Tina Mason (both pictured) and Polly Shepperdson are Independent councillors. - Credit: Portishead Independents

The act states that failure to attend a public meeting in person for six months or longer removes a councillor from their role with immediate effect, though the town council stated it had been running its meetings either fully online mode or as a hybrid.

Cllr Goddard has not attended a meeting in-person in six months - instead taking part in several remotely - meaning that under the Act, she has already lost her seat and so could not 'resign'.

"I was advised the week before that I needed to attend the meeting face to face due to this requirement," she said.

"I had already sent my apologies for the council meeting as that week I was on holiday - I always book Cheltenham week as a holiday and have done for years.

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"I was contacted on the Tuesday to say I must attend on Wednesday – even though I was on holiday and a guest of Cheltenham.

"I booked and changed my plans. Sadly, booking an earlier car to leave Cheltenham proved a nightmare. I sent a picture to Portishead Town Council and advised I was stuck in traffic. I was told not to call into council."

From May 7 2021, the High Court ruled that meetings held by local authorities should no longer take place remotely.

Portishead

Three seats may become available through by-elections. - Credit: Portishead Town Council

The town council's chairman, Patricia Sterndale, has called for the Government to revamp its legislation to allow for councillors to attend remotely while still carrying out their role.

She said: "The three councillors have been attending in an online capacity only for necessary reasons including illness and shielding themselves and others from Covid.

"In addition, they have continued to carry out the many other duties expected of a councillor.

"We have learned recently that, due to the arcane nature of local government which still uses the 50 year-old 1972 Local Government Act as its base rule book, online attendance bizarrely does not count as attendance.

"We are seeking legal advice on this matter as this makes no sense to us in the year 2022 and we note that both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have updated their legislation to formally recognise online meeting participation as attendance.

"We have asked the UK Government to make the same changes."

The town council also confirmed it would not ask Cllr Shepperdson or Cllr Mason to resign.

Patricia Sterndale added: "Your Portishead Independents Councillors were elected on a platform to modernise local government and the Councils’ relationship with its residents.

"This is something we feel strongly about so we are fully supportive of councillors continuing to attend meetings remotely if necessary and will not be asking any councillors to resign because they need to fulfil part of their role as community volunteers by attending some meetings online.

"The exception to the above is councillor Caroline Goddard who has indicated that she is resigning from Portishead Town Council, although she remains as a North Somerset district councillor representing Portishead East."