Why Local Councillors Across England Want a Hybrid Model of Online and In-Person Meetings
The COVID-19 pandemic saw widespread adoption of video communications tools like Zoom across all sectors of the economy in England, as elsewhere. In fact, Zoom’s partnership with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2021 showed that for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) surveyed in the UK by BCG (their study also included Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), digital adoption was much greater during the pandemic than in comparable countries like the U.S., France, and Germany.
This trend was particularly pronounced in the local government sector. Our latest study, conducted in February 2022 and detailed below, reveals that in England, most elected local representatives that we spoke to said they rarely used video solutions like Zoom in their roles as local councillors prior to March 2020. However, within just a few months of the onset of lockdown restrictions, the share that said they used video conferencing at least six hours a week jumped by 7x from 12% to 83%.
Councillors support adopting a hybrid model for future council business
To understand what this seismic shift meant for elected representatives, and how they served their communities, Zoom partnered with the County Councils Network (CCN), a local government organisation representing England’s 23 county councils and 13 county unitary authorities. Together, we issued a survey in February 2022 asking councillors in those councils to share their experience using video platforms like Zoom at different stages of the pandemic and reflections on their council’s digital transformation plans.
The survey, which was answered by 479 councillors – around a fifth of all CCN members – revealed a significant desire to adopt a hybrid model for conducting council business. For example:
- 87% of councillors support their council being given the power to conduct official council business on a hybrid basis (they were temporarily allowed to do this during the pandemic, until emergency laws lapsed). For female councillors, this rose to 91%.
- 71% of councillors surveyed expected their council to adopt a hybrid working model for most or all of their staff in the future.
- 80% of councillors surveyed said video conferencing had enabled them to communicate more with local groups, such as community groups and their political parties.
The benefits of a hybrid model for English councils
The survey also revealed several ways that strong majorities of councillors felt a hybrid approach to being a councillor would help them as individuals, their councils, and the communities they serve.
For example, 70% of councillors surveyed said having a hybrid option would reduce the money their council spends on travel allowances; 76% said this could reduce their council’s carbon footprint, and 72% of councillors in rural areas felt it would reduce the amount of time they spent commuting.
Councillors also told us that this would help improve their work-life balance, which in turn would help attract a wider range of people into local politics, such as those with caring responsibilities and in under-represented groups, improving the diversity of councils. This was felt especially strongly by councillors 44 and younger (92%) and female councillors (85%), strongly suggesting that giving councillors the option of joining some meetings remotely would help boost the number of younger people and women in local government – groups that have traditionally been under-represented.
It’s evident from the research that, for councillors in England, the genie is clearly out of the bottle and they are not content to simply go back to how things were. There is an opportunity to build on recent progress toward digital adoption, and that can start with giving councils the flexibility they desire to hold decision-making meetings in a hybrid format.