Central Beds councillor claims member suggested hybrid meetings were popular because women could 'load the washing machine' at the same time

"This does nothing for diversity, it doesn't do a great deal for women"

By John Guinn, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 14th January 2022, 5:06 pm
Updated Friday, 14th January 2022, 5:08 pm
Central Beds Council's headquarters

A councillor told a meeting that she heard an opposition member say hybrid meetings are popular with female members of staff as they could load the washing machine at the same time.

A hybrid meeting is one where some participants are physically sitting in the chamber, while others join them remotely via a video conference system.

The debate on Central Bedfordshire Council's meeting calendar for the coming year turned into a debate on holding evening meetings at last night's (Thursday, January 13) full council meeting.

It was kicked off by Independent councillor Nicola Harris (Stotfold and Langford) who asked why the calendar didn't have more evening meetings.

Councillor Paul Duckett (Conservative, Ampthill Ward) told the meeting that the decision to hold daytime meetings was taken when the council was formed because of the number of officers involved and the weight of the workload.

"This is a unitary authority, not a parish council, nor any other kind of social club who usually meets in the evening, not that parish councils are social clubs," he said.

"Yes, there are those that do have other jobs, there are many of us who do this as a full-time job because we believe it warrants the effort and energy to do so, despite the pecuniary disadvantages of so doing.

"If you can attend a daytime meeting and you're in full-time employment you have to try and organise your holidays accordingly.

"Similarly, if you're doing it full-time and you want to attend a daytime meeting then you just suck it up, you know, and do without the extra money that's so attractive to so many people.

"So I would suggest that the reason we have daytime meeting is sound, it was reasoned through, and it was done for all the good and right reasons," he said.

Councillor Gareth Mackey (Independent, Flitwick Ward) said the council was set up a number of years ago and that the world has moved on.

"I think it's probably about time that we do start to think about how we can better accommodate not only members, but also our residents in being able to attend," he said.

Councillor Tracey Wye (Independent, Potton Ward) said: "I would just like to say the idea that you can't have evening meetings, and you should all suck it up, it doesn't do anything to encourage people to become councillors.

"If we just want to be managed, 'councilled' [sic], ruled, whatever, by a kind of retired or rich people, or basically men, because they know, can just suck it up and give up their days, this does nothing for diversity, it doesn't do a great deal for women.

"So evening meetings, or a range of timed meetings, would be beneficial for anyone who wishes to be a councillor, plus anyone who wishes to attend it," she said.

Councillor Hayley Whitaker (Independent, Biggleswade South Ward) said evening meetings were about transparency, being accessible, and being in touch with the people the councillors are meant to be representing.

"Unfortunately, I think a lot of people sat opposite me absolutely are out of touch with the people that they're supposed to be representing," she said

"I was unfortunate enough to be in an evening briefing with some members of the opposition just before Christmas, where I was unlucky enough to hear one of the members across the way say that hybrid meetings were clearly very popular, particularly with female members of staff and with people, because they could load the washing machine at the same time as having meetings and getting on with their working day.

"If that isn't an example of how out of touch this council is, then I don't think anything is," she added.

The Conservative member for Sandy, councillor Caroline Maudlin reminded members that not everyone works a 9-to-5 day.

"I have a part-time job, it takes me around the world but I manage to juggle that," she said.

"Being a woman, I don't mind driving out at night, but I've got other things that would suit me better during the evenings, with parish council meetings, with joining other clubs, with doing other things in the community.

"So I'm very happy that these are daytime meetings for me, but it would be interesting to see, probably in our questionnaire we put out to our residents, to see what they feel about it, to get the true facts coming in, and not just thinking that 9-to-5 is the way to go," she said.