At the council’s annual meeting on Thursday, May 18, a report that looked at a new working model for all councillors attending meetings was debated.
The report recommended that meetings continue with a mixture of hybrid – which means some councillors are present in the chamber while others attending online, and some meetings taking place solely online.
Two face-to-face meetings a year for each committee which would allow councillors and staff to get to know each other, were also recommended.
An amendment to the proposal was put forward by Councillor Graham Breeze of the Independent group.
Councillor Breeze said: “I think it’s important to take note of the mixed feelings and emotions that are being expressed by both councillors and officers around the new working practices.
He believed that the working practices should be subject to an annual review as he saw “huge benefits” from the hybrid system but was “also convinced” that there are “many downsides”, especially the lack of physical contact between councillors and staff.
A second part to the amendment proposed that the planning committee chairman is given the power to call face-to-face meetings “as and when they feel the need”.
Councillor Breeze added that councillors and planning officers had issues with technology at meetings and that this was “sending a poor message to the public of the way their applications are being handled”.
Liberal Democrat councillor Gareth Ratcliffe said that the council needed “the ability” to allow councillors to attend meetings remotely.
Councillor Ratcliffe said: “I’m lucky at work to get the odd hour off here and there to attend meetings.
“But I would have to take a half or full day off work to attend meetings (in the chamber).
“We need that flexibility, or we’ll end up with just retired people in this chamber.”
“We need to be mindful of working people.”
Cabinet member for a safer Powys, Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Church said: “We are required by the Welsh Government that we give all of our members the ability to participate remotely.
“To place the power on the chair of one committee to insist that members turn up in person breaks that.”
Councillor Ratcliffe believed that a committee chair could encourage councillors to “attend in person” but could not “require” it.
Planning committee chairman, Conservative Councillor Karl Lewis said: “Applicants are spending sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“I think as chairman I need to be in the chamber and encourage as many members as possible to come along and support me, that doesn’t mean that they can’t operate remotely.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Angela Davies said: “I’m confused as to what we’ll be voting on.
“Are we saying that we’re either in the chamber or not?”
Councillor Davies pointed out that she didn’t attend the planning committee meeting on Wednesday, May 17.
She said: “I had an unpleasant cough, so I joined from home. If the chair had insisted that was in person, I couldn’t have taken part.”
Head of legal and democratic services Clive Pinney said: “The amendment says that the chair can say when members come in and the meeting will not be hybrid.
“It may not be the intention, but that’s what it says.”
Councillor Breeze asked if he could re-word the amendment, but this was not allowed.
He was given the option of either “withdrawing” the amendment or letting it go to a vote.
The annual review was agreed with a show of hands.
The planning chair part of the amendment saw 19 councillors voting in favour, 30 against and 10 abstentions.
A subsequent vote saw 60 councillors in favour and two abstain on a proposal to send the issue back to the democratic services committee to take a fresh look at it.