Nuffield Council and Involve letter to PM calling for greater transparency and public involvement in COVID-19 response

Hello all,

I hope everyone is staying well. I wanted to share with you this joint letter to the Prime Minister by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and Involve calling for greater transparency and public involvement in the UK’s response to COVID-19.

Specifically, it calls on the Government to:

  • Show the public what it is doing and thinking across the range of issues of concern
  • Set out the ethical considerations that are informing its judgements
  • Explain how it arrived at decisions including what advice it has sought and received
  • Invite a broad range of perspectives into the discussion, including wider cross public representation
  • Think ahead – consult and engage other civic interests through genuinely open fora and deliberative processes such as citizens’ assemblies.

All the best,

1 Like


If only you had reviewed “Informed Choice – ic!” you would have seen that it would enable the government could set out its rationale, in clear, unambiguous ways as well as invited interested parties to engage in the decisions made - and still be sure the best choice was ALWAYS identified having distilled everyone’s (disparate?) viewpoints, all expressed in a universally understandable ‘language’.

And, you would have realised ic! is discrimination-blind, non-partisan and egalitarian. Above all, it’s consensual (NOT conflict-based) and properly transparent, as well as being freely available on a website devoid of commercial influences to ensure it’s beyond reproach.

If you are prima facie interested, we could still present it to you via Zoom.

Kindest regards

Michael La Costa


Does anybody have a list of principal Councils that are using the ability to hold remote meetings to ensure that the business of local democracy continues. There are a few listed on the LGA site as case studies but that is a very short list. I know some smaller authorities are struggling with the technology but there are many larger ones that seemed to have just decided that democracy and openness is a bit of a bother and have dispensed with it. I am trying to get a feel for the numbers that are still functioning as local government should.

Any help would be much appreciated.

Best regards,

John McKay

Hi John,

I don’t have a list but am definitely interested in what’s happening to the local democracy function during the pandemic. In Scotland I know there are provisions within legislation for business to be suspended and decision-making power given to the Council Chief Executive (this has happened in the Scottish Borders for example and probably others). In times of crisis this seems to be expected…I think it’s an important question though, particularly when some Council committees are continuing to function as normal (or as normally as they can e.g. Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Dundee). The role of elected members as representatives, decision-makers and scrutineers of decision-making is important at all times including (or perhaps more so?) in times of crisis; particularly given the valuable role of local government.

I’d suggest an FOI request but given the time extensions to this…it could be worth looking on individual local authority websites as they might have an update, or ask COSLA or LGiU depending on where you’re based or where your interest is?

Keep in touch if you find anything out, and happy to have a conversation with anyone else who shares this interest.


Hi John,
This is a bit off topic, but the ICO applied for and was granted a 28 day stay on all Tribunal proceedingsICO stay 1 April 2020.pdf (282.8 KB) because they are “temporarily closed”. This has just been extended for another 28 days. They are delaying issuing me with a decision notice regarding the Russia report “to prevent unnecessary burden on public authorities and the Tribunal service”.

It does feel rather like they’ve switched off the lights of democracy and openness just at the time it is most needed and all gone home to their beds.
best wishes
James Coombs

Thanks James,

Sorry, I am new to this list so apologise for blundering in with stuff that is off-topic.

I agree, the lights of democracy certainly do seemed to have dimmed … and at some Local Authorities have been switched off, for no proper reason. Democracy and open government would appear to be a luxury we can no longer afford.

Best regards,

John McKay

Hi John,
I was apologising for my reply possibly being off topic (regulator and Tribunal system). Your post seemed very relevant to me, although to be honest I’m never sure of the correct etiquette so don’t take my word for it. :wink:

I do hope not, and I think it is really important where we can influence it we should all be trying to find practical ways to ensure democracy doesn’t slip backwards - the very fact that we are all connected to this network means we care about it - all of us in our way. Open Government is not a luxury, but it certainly is difficult given what we are facing globally but it is a global issue so do join the webinar by OGP’s champions Sanjay Pradhhan and Helen Clark who will talk about what countries are doing to with Apolitical ### [How to respond to COVID-19 through open government

I think I need to say that I am a District Councillor. It may or may not be relevant, but I can say with some certainty that what is happening across local government is a shut down of democracy. There are some that are finding a way, which begs the question; if they can do it… ? Many very important decisions are currently being made without proper scrutiny. This was never the intention of recent legislation. The claim is that there is an emergency, but one has never been declared under the Civil Contingencies Act, and neither have LA’s declared their own emergency The decision to suspend democracy has largely been taken by the CEO in consultation with the Leader. That does not add up to open government in my view.

Dear Forumistas

If a normally sleeping member is allowed a rant about hyperlocal government in Scotland, i.e. community councils, please read on. If not, please stop here.

I began seething when the the council official responsible for supporting community councils in my local authority emailed that CCs should not try to meet ’normally’ online because such meetings exclude people who cannot access online meetings. His emails are below my signature. I’m not naming him or my council area, because it seems unfair to put this official alone in the firing line when it’s the whole ethos that gets up my nose.

Firstly, the phrase 'the Council is willing to permit requests from CCs for online meetings’ annoys me more than I can describe politely. It’s not up to the local authority to permit (or forbid) CC meetings.

It is true that online-only excludes a huge number of people. There are some figures from people who know far better than me here: This, of itself, is a tragedy. I intend to contribute practically to work tackling this when I’m back in Scotland. (I’m currently in Worcestershire for unpleasant personal reasons.)

But that should be no reason to forbid CCs from trying to carry on under these conditions as best as they can. Instead, I contend that local authorities should be supporting CCs to use online tools so they can engage with the majority of interested people who can use such tools. When lockdown ceases, they should be encouraging CCs to mix online and in-person tools, so those who cannot attend meetings in person can join remotely.

Of course local authorities took a few weeks to ensure core, life-or-death services are in good shape, and to sort out their own governance etc. You can’t save someone if you are also drowning. You can’t eat democracy. And I have every sympathy with the officials and elected members who are going through a whole load of unexpected challenges.

However, given that lockdown has been going for more than a month, after plenty of warning, I think it is now time that local authorities were working with, and supporting, their community councils and residents’ associations to carry on working on behalf of their people. It’s true that a lot of planning, a major part of CC work, is on hold. But planning work is being encouraged to go online. So CCs need to engage with their people, so they can find and represent community opinions in such planning processes. (That’s a legal duty from the the Local Government (Scotland) Act, Part IV. If a local authority encourages behaviour that is contrary to law, is it hence guilty of an offence?)

I realise I may have taken the worst possible interpretation here, so I’d be grateful for reality-checks.

In closing, I’d suggest you can’t eat democracy but you’ll soon suffer without it.


Greetings Bruce,
As an experienced international disaster risk management practitioner (under lockdown in London) I have had several conversations with country and district level councils about the need for the national government to strengthen local disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk at an appropriate and locally accountable manner as an exit strategy from the one-size-doesn’t fit all approach that the government is currently enforcing at huge social and economic cost to the country. The word I’m currently back from the councils and local health trusts is that they feel they have been dis-empowered by the current top-down response. Experience tells me countries that decentralise and embrace all-of-society engagement and multi-stakeholder partnerships are the ones that respond and recovery most effectively from disasters and crisis. I can send some slides I put together on this if interested (new users appear not to upload attachments on this platform

Dear fellow Forumistas

As Marcus notes having appropriate and locally accountable governance seems best in managing disaster risk (and I’d argue in normal times) as other countries such as Germany’s experience seems to confirm.

What legislation in the UK and the devolved administrations allows local authorities (including parish and community councils) to have virtual meetings? And is it being used? The Coronavirus Act (Westminster) included a provision for planning committees to meet virtually but I’ve not come across any other legislation.

Best wishes. Martin

Hi Marcus

I’d be very happy to receive your slides. You can email me directly at

Thanks indeed!


For the UK (excluding Scotland) it’s probably section 78 of the the Coronavirus Act 2020.

For Scotland, have a look at the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (try Schedule 6)

Maurice Frankel

Campaign for Freedom of Information

Dear Forumistas

Concerning Scottish local authorities, a very quick and dirty google suggests the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. I’m looking at schedule 6, part 4: and getting confused because it’s written as ‘this new law modifies that old law with these words in this way’. The only clear thing I see about local authority meetings is clause 13.3A:

The public are to be excluded from a meeting of a local authority whenever it is likely that, if members of the public were present, there would be a real and substantial risk to public health due to infection or contamination with coronavirus.

Part 7 of the main text says only 'Schedule 6 makes provision in relation to the functions of public bodies including temporary modifications of legislation.’

I don’t know whether that helps.

If I’ve understood correctly, my local authority has convened a ‘leadership action panel’ consisting of all leaders of parties represented in the elected membership. Also, much decision-making has been delegated to committee leadership, i.e. convenors and co-convenors and senior council officer directly working with that committee.

I have a vague recollection of being told that councillors not on each committee are now all receiving all the papers for every meeting. If so, then

  1. that might lead to more ‘democratic oversight’ - some matters have slipped through disparate committees because they could only examine transport, finance aspects
  2. But elected members will be overwhelmed with info!

However, my understanding may well be incorrect - I’m currently about 300 miles from Scotland and distracted by personal things. Another reason for not naming my local authority!

Thanks all round


Dear fellow Forumistas.

In part answer to my own question earlier, the Welsh legislation enabling local authorities to meet virtually can be found at It should be noted that video is not essential, which helps address the question of council members who might otherwise be digitally excluded.

Presumably there are similar regulations now in place for local authorities covering the rest of the UK.

So I’m now wondering to what extent local authorities are using them to conduct their business through virtual meetings.

Best wishes

Martin (Hughes

I thought a recent article was interesting in the Local Government Chronicle entitled The local solution to a global pandemic by Jessica Hill.

Local Solutions to a Global Pandemic