Emergency decision-making powers ushered in by Bromley Council at the start of the coronavirus pandemic will remain in place until at least January next year, despite a senior Tory councillor’s calls for them to be rolled back.

The move means it’ll be at least 10 months since Bromley’s executive met in public, after councillors resisted a push for more public meetings amid concerns of a potential second coronavirus spike over winter.

The impromptu debate was raised by Cllr Nicholas Bennett, Bromley’s former Mayor and a former Conservative MP, at a September 10 meeting of one of the authority’s scrutiny committees.

Cllr Bennett was a member of the urgency committee which made the decision to award greater powers to senior councillors back in March – including allowing the leader of the council to take major decisions which would previously require a meeting of executive.

Asking if executive meetings could be reinstated, Cllr Bennett said when the decision was made to suspend them back in March “we didn’t know what the situation was going to be”.

“But we now have the Zoom method of having meetings and it does seem to work,” he said, referring to the online video streaming service used for meetings by most councils across the UK since the outbreak of the virus.

Council leader Colin Smith, replying to his long-time Tory colleague, said every item he made the final decision on was still going before a scrutiny committee for their recommendation beforehand.

In addition, members of the executive discussed items via email, Cllr Smith said.

“Every single item is considered and corresponded by the executive by email so it is being double scrutinised. If the general view is the people want to do the same thing twice at extra resource of officers, we can do that,” he said.

“I don’t see the point personally (in reinstating formal executive meetings) but frankly it would make my life a lot easier if it did…all it does is have the same debate twice,” he said, before reiterating it was the committee’s call: “I can’t stress how little I care either way”.

Cllr Bennett’s suggestion was enthusiastically supported by Labour leader Cllr Angela Wilkins.

“The public don’t know what emails are being exchanged between members of the executive and neither do I for that matter,” she said.

“There’s a really, really important point about scrutiny here.”

Cllr Bennett added:  “With respect to the leader, we either have an executive or we don’t…we don’t know what the email correspondence is…that debate ought to be in public.”

“Now we know we can run these meetings quite successfully in this (online Zoom) manner I believe we should go back to having the executive meet and then they can have the debate in public,” the former Pembrokeshire MP added.

News Shopper: Bromley Civic Centre: Large public meetings may potentially not return until after January. Bromley Civic Centre: Large public meetings may potentially not return until after January.

Cllr Smith said his colleague “raises a fair point” and again said “it’s not a problem” to reinstate the meetings – aside that it would take up an extra “hour and a half of officers’ time” and the executive would likely have the “same decisions and same conversations” as the scrutiny meeting.

However, Conservative Cllr Mary Cooke highlighted that now was not the time to review the current processes as it was likely that more officer time would be required in the coming months to respond to the anticipated second spike in cases of Covid-19.

“(We’re) looking at a potential second spike. That by definition is going to take up more time for officers…this seems to be the wrong time,” she said.

It led to a hasty vote in favour of instead reviewing the current arrangements in January 2021 – 10 months after they were ushered in.

The meeting also saw questions raised over the lack of public detail surrounding the potential sale of Chislehurst Library, as well as the council's plans to sell off £30m worth of property.