Dorset Council’s 82 councillors, who no longer need to go to any meetings, have even less to attend this week.

Last Monday the council said it had only cancelled ten meetings since lockdown. This week another two out of four have been called off and a third, in the diary as a reserve date, will not be held.

The only remaining public committee this week is a three-councillor licensing panel which will look at an application for a Bridport business on Wednesday.

A small staffing committee had been due to meet tomorrow to approve a new corporate director for commissioning adult services but the council was unable to fill the post which has a salary of between £87,000 and £112,000.

In a statement the council said: “As this was the only item on the July staffing committee agenda, the meeting has been cancelled. We will be reviewing the recruitment process later this year.”

That committee decision now brings to three out of four of the listed committees which are shown in the council’s own online diary for this week as being “cancelled”.

Other cancellations for the week include the full 82-member council meeting on Thursday. The full council has not met since February and is not due to meet again until September.

Councillors are currently no longer under any obligation to attend any meetings, although that could be reviewed if the coronavirus situation changes.

The final meeting to be cancelled is strategic planning which has only held one meeting since the council came into being in May 2019. The date was in the diary in case one was needed.

Last Monday the council’s legal officer Jonathan Mair said that, at that date, the authority had only cancelled 10 meetings since the start of the pandemic lock down and was making good progress in holding more meetings. This week’s cancellation by the council’s own figures brings cancellations to 13.

The largest opposition group, the Liberal Democrats, have been calling for more meetings to be held, as had one councillor from the controlling Conservative group, Weymouth’s Louie O’Leary.

Figures from the council’s own records show that between January and the end of June a total of 15 meetings were cancelled. In the same period two were listed as ‘withdrawn’ and 19 ‘postponed’ - a total of 26 meetings not held when they were scheduled to be, out of 87 meetings in the calendar. It is accepted that some meetings will be called off for a range of reasons from lack of business to being unable to get appropriate participants together, with some on the diary in case they are needed.

In March the council held 9 of its 17 public meetings and in April, when lockdown was at a peak, only one meeting out of 12 listed was not postponed or cancelled.

In May of the 9 meetings listed, seven were held online. In June of the 16 listed four were postponed and 2 cancelled, with ten taking place online.

As of July 13th, 17 meetings are shown in the calendar for the month, 3 of which have so far been postponed and 3 cancelled.

Only five meetings are shown for August, almost all planning, which involves a maximum of 35 councillors. Throughout the pandemic planning has consistently managed to meet and deal with applications.

Many of the council’s committees have not met in public for several months – the last harbours committee was held on December 4th 2019; the last joint markets committee on January 29th; the last police and crime panel on February 4th; the last parenting board on February 11th; the last full council on February 18th and the last pensions committee on March 12th.

The next meeting of the harbours committee is due to be held on September 23rd; the joint markets panel is not in the calendar at all although an autumn date may be arranged;  the police and crime panel is due to next meet on September 24th; the next parenting board is expected to be held on September 9th; the next full council on September 3rd and the next pensions committee is scheduled for September 10th.

Despite now having a responsibility for housing the council has never held a housing committee meeting in public although an executive advisory panel, which meets with no public or press present, and does not publish any public minutes or agendas, has met several times.

Dorset Council say the pandemic has caused major disruption to its normal business with many officers not at their usual posts (250 out of a staff of 4,500) and has sought to maintain as many meetings as it can, albeit online. It says that, compared to some other authorities, it has a good track record in doing this and has been praised for its use of Microsoft Team technology to hold meetings.

It anticipates that as the year progresses more meetings will be able to be held and that public access will be improved. Currently members of the public are not allowed to ‘appear’ at council meetings, although provided they meet the council’s criteria, can send in written comments.

None of the council’s offices have yet re-opened to the public.