In order to comply with social distancing measures, Bedford Borough Council hosted its first full council meeting ‘remotely’ this week.
The virtual meeting took place on Wednesday, with Mayor Dave Hodgson underlining the importance of maintaining democracy regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the meeting, Cllr Jane Walker (Con) was appointed as Speaker, with Mohammed Nawaz (Lab) elected as Deputy Speaker for the forthcoming year.
Commenting on her appointment, Cllr Walker said, “It’s going to be a very different year, I think. I never anticipated when I took on the role of Deputy Speaker that this is how I’d become Speaker… Hopefully we’ll have some events that we can go to, once we’re allowed to meet, otherwise I’ll just see you [online] in my study every Council meeting.
“For me, the biggest disappointment is not being able to go out into the Borough to attend local events. It’s one of the privileges of being speaker that you are invited to attend lots of events on behalf of the council and meet lots of people in the Borough outside our own wards.
“Obviously all of the big events have been cancelled and it’s unlikely that even smaller events will take place for some time, so my year will mostly be just the chairing of Full Council.
“However it is an honour to have been chosen as Speaker so I will do my best to adapt the way the speaker role is carried out in the unusual circumstances of this year.”
First elected in 2011, Cllr Nawaz is now in his third term as a Borough Councillor. He is presently Chair of the Audit & Standards Committee, and also sits on the Pension Fund Committee. He is a member of Bedfordshire Police & Crime Panel.
Councillor Nawaz said, “I would like to offer my congratulations to Councillor Jane Walker who is Speaker this year. I am honoured to have been selected to be Deputy Speaker and look forward to working with her over the coming year.”
Mayor Dave Hodgson said, “It is important that democracy continues despite the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Wednesday’s meeting was historic as it was the first time Bedford’s Full Council has ever met virtually in its history.
“I would like to congratulate Councillor Tim Hill on completing his year as speaker and welcome Councillor Jane Walker as our new, and first ‘virtual’, Speaker and Councillor Mohammed Nawaz as the new Deputy speaker – I look forward to working with them both, particularly in these challenging times.”
Members of the public can view the meeting on YouTube here.