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Emergency powers at Suffolk councils allowing decisions to continue during coronavirus pandemic

PUBLISHED: 05:30 27 March 2020

Councils across Suffolk may have ceased committees and meetings, but emergency powers means chief executives can take decisions needed urgently during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Councils across Suffolk may have ceased committees and meetings, but emergency powers means chief executives can take decisions needed urgently during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Suffolk’s authorities have offered assurances that necessary decisions can still be made during the coronavirus pandemic, despite councils unable to meet.

Steve Gallant, East Suffolk Council leader, said red tape would not stop any necessary decision from being made during the coronavirus period. Picture: PAUL NIXON/SUFFOLK COASTALSteve Gallant, East Suffolk Council leader, said red tape would not stop any necessary decision from being made during the coronavirus period. Picture: PAUL NIXON/SUFFOLK COASTAL

Emergency powers built into each authority’s constitution allows the chief executive to take decisions that cabinet or full councils would normally take, in emergency situations.

MORE: All the latest coronavirus updates at the Suffolk Coronavirus Facebook page

With no council committees currently taking place because of the government-enforced lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, chief executives are able to exercise these powers.

That applies to all of the county’s district, borough and county authorities.

It means that any urgent decisions which need to be made to continue the safe and effective operations of the authorities can be made, as well as decisions not linked to coronavirus which must be made within a statutory timeframe, such as planning applications.

East Suffolk Council leader Steve Gallant said: “Our constitution means that officers already have the ability to act in a wide range of circumstances, to respond to emergency situations.

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“This has worked well, and continues to provide us with the flexibility we need, to respond to the current crisis.

“The Secretary of State has asked council leaders to take a flexible approach to decision making.

“From my point of view, if something need to be done it will be done – and we would never allow bureaucracy or red tape get in the way of making decisions and getting things done.”

Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere said decision-making would operate in a similar way to the pre-election periods when chief executives carry out urgent decisions.

It is understood that currently there is no legal framework to allow councils to meet digitally and make decisions, although it is believed that emergency legislation is part of the government’s plan to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

However, some councils may not have the logistics in place to be able to operate a digital meeting, even if the legislation goes through.

As well as chief executives, senior offices can make decisions in some areas, such as planning.

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A Suffolk County Council spokesman added: “A protocol has been agreed that ensures the views of the opposition groups are taken into account by the chief executive before decisions are taken, and the relevant reports and decisions will be made available through the council’s website to ensure transparency.

“The political group leaders are in regular contact to ensure that the focus is on the council supporting the community from across the political landscape.”

Bookmark the EADT coronavirus topic page here to keep up to date with developments.

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