Day-time only council meetings ‘indirectly discriminate against people who work for a living’

Gareth Evans, Lib Dem Chichester district councillor
Gareth Evans, Lib Dem Chichester district councillor

The decision to keep all council meetings during the day ‘indirectly discriminates against those who have to work for a living’, a new councillor has suggested.

Chichester District Council is one of only a handful of similar authorities out of more than 200 across England and Wales to start all its meetings in the morning or early afternoon, according to figures supplied by the Lib Dems.

The issue was brought up at a council meeting last month as some members said they had been left out of pocket by the need to take time off work or had used annual leave in order to attend.

The Conservative administration agreed to set up a working group to explore the idea, but ruled out any changes before the next election in 2023.

The Lib Dems believe the current system is ‘discriminatory and unfair’ and felt their attempt to find a compromise was rejected.

Gareth Evans, Lib Dem councillor for Loxwood, could not take time off to attend the council meeting as he works full time as a teacher.

He said: “I see being a councillor as a community service and not a hobby, it is not something you choose to do at the time of the day you prefer.

“This is not about preferences, this is about the terrible fact that people who work have no other option, and if the system prevents people like me from fulfilling our duties, the system is wrong no matter how long it has been in operation for.

“The refusal from the Conservatives to change the status quo sends a message that they believe that it is absolutely right that only retired or wealthy people represent our communities at district level and it indirectly discriminates against those who have to work for a living.”

Adrian Moss, leader of the Lib Dem opposition, added: “All we asked was that a working group was set up to enable a real review to take place, We even offered to amend our recommendation to seek a positive compromise across the parties represented on the council.”

When the issue was discussed in late September, council leader Eileen Lintill said she had stood for election in May knowing the council held meetings during the day, and if she had thought the majority of meetings would be held in the evening she ‘might well have reconsidered whether to stand or not’.

But the Lib Dems said this argument was ‘disingenuous and gives a sense of entitlement’.

They felt it was not just about district councillors, but residents and parish representatives who also might not be able to attend day-time meetings.