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Councillors criticised for going maskless at Maidstone council meetings

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Concerns have been raised about Maidstone councillors setting a poor example over mask wearing in meetings.

Many councillors have been choosing not to wear a mask during council meetings, even when members of the public are present in the chamber.

Monday's committee meeting in the Town Hall - with maskless councillors
Monday's committee meeting in the Town Hall - with maskless councillors

At a meeting of the Strategic Planning and Infrastructure committee held in the Town Hall, which was attended by the public, the windows were opened to aid air circulation and the council officers wore face coverings, as they have been instructed to do.

But the same could not be said of some councillors, even though they were sitting at adjacent desks with no social distancing.

Only two - Cllrs Steve Munford (Ind) and Valerie Springett (Con) - wore a face covering.

Those attending who went unmasked were Cllrs Brian Clark (Lib Dem), Patrick Garten (Con), Susan Grigg (Lib Dem), Malcolm McKay (Ind), Claudine Russell (Con), Dennis Spooner (Con) and the chairman Paul Cooper (Con).

Cllr Paul Harper (Lab), who was not at the meeting himself, said: "This is something that has to be sorted out.

"We can't ask the officers to wear mask and then not do so ourselves."

Cllr Paul Harper
Cllr Paul Harper

"Councillors should be leaders in their community, setting the right example for others to follow."

He has subsequently been asking the chairman of any in-person council meetings to ensure that members wore their masks.

A spokesman for Maidstone council said that all councillors had been given the following advice: "Please keep in mind that while officers will be required to wear masks it is for everyone’s benefit if councillors do so too.

"While it is a matter of assessing personal risk, it also impacts on the collective risk for everyone in attendance, other councillors, officers and the public.

"We would therefore strongly urge you to consider others and wear a mask when not speaking, eating or drinking."

'Face coverings are required to be worn at council meetings in indoor public places'

The law in force at the time remains slightly unclear. Government guidance had stated that "from December 10, face coverings have become compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship.

"There are exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings.”

The National Association of Local Councils said: "Our view of the guidance is that face coverings are required to be worn at council meetings held in indoor public places, subject to medical exemptions or reasonable excuse."

The matter has now become rather academic. With the recent change to regulations announced by the Government, face coverings will no longer be legally required in any setting from tomorrow.

However, the Government does still "recommend" that people wear face coverings in enclosed or private spaces.

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