Councillors will log on for the first virtual Copeland Council annual general meeting today – and the public can watch online.

The government guidance around dealing with the coronavirus outbreak has led the borough council to scrap meetings in person for the foreseeable future but councillors will instead meet online at 2pm today.

The meeting is currently set to be one of 32 virtual sessions held over the rest of the year, should councillors vote to approve a new calendar which has been put together to run until May 2021.

A new chair of the council should be elected, with a deputy chair also due to be appointed.

Copeland mayor Mike Starkie said: “The good thing is that with a lot of people at home, from what I’ve seen around other parts, there are a lot of people joining these council meetings and I think there was a meeting the other week which had 300 people there.

“What it could do is create a lot more engagement with local politics and support a greater understanding because the reality is, until you come into this sort of environment, I don’t think anyone could appreciate just how much a local authority gets involved with.”

The AGM will be followed at 3pm by an extraordinary council meeting – which will also take place online – including a financial report on the impact of Covid-19 on the council and borough, and a report from Mr Starkie on how the council has been operating during the pandemic. Questions from the public will also be answered.

Pat Graham, chief executive of the council, believes a hybrid system could eventually be adopted over the coming months, with some councillors at higher risk from coronavirus calling into meetings virtually and others in the building.

She said: “I do have to commend our members for the fact that we are able to have virtual meetings because members have put a lot of time and effort in, as have our staff.

“I think we have to accept that we know some of our meetings are going to be a bit clunky but this is going to be our new normal and we’re asking people to bear with us.

“We’ve got this provision in place legally for 12 months because of course a lot of our members are in high risk categories or need to isolate anyway so even if we come out of lockdown they won’t necessarily be coming into the building.

“It’s so important that members who were elected to take decisions and represent their communities are enabled to do that so we wanted to move quite quickly into virtual meetings so that members can do what they’re there to do.”

Both meetings will be accessible through the council's website here.