COUNCILLORS are considering moving the annual budget debate from Hove Town Hall to the Brighton Centre to allow for social distancing.

All 54 members of Brighton and Hove City Council are expected to attend the “budget council” meeting scheduled for Thursday 24 February.

The annual meeting is when councillors set their spending plans for the coming financial year, which starts in April, and the council tax.

A report to the council’s policy and resources committee meeting next Thursday also includes a series of proposals to limit numbers at other full council meetings.

These include permitting fewer people to attend meetings to ensure social distancing, wearing face masks and taking “lateral flow tests” to check for the coronavirus.

The aim is to limit the spread of Covid-19, including the omicron variant, to protect councillors, officials and the public.

Budget council is often a long meeting when councillors broker deals to secure extra funding for specific projects.

The report to the policy and resources committee said: “The Brighton Centre will be available for the budget council meeting on Thursday 24 February.

“We have been able to secure a competitive price with sufficient space for the main meeting and breakout rooms for each of the political groups and the Independents.

“We will use the centre’s facilities and our equipment to hold the meeting and webcast the proceedings.

“However, the centre will not be available for future meetings, especially during the spring and summer season, because of prior bookings. No other suitable alternative venue has been identified.”

The committee is asked to approve the arrangements, including the use of Hove Town Hall for full council meetings because of limitations at Brighton Town Hall.

The first part of full council meetings, including petitions and questions from the public, will be held virtually as happened last month, starting at 4.30pm and lasting for about 90 minutes.

The Argus: The meeting could be moved from Hove Town HallThe meeting could be moved from Hove Town Hall

The report said: “Members will see that these are items that are dealt with by the leader or chairs of committees and there is nothing active for other members to do during the engagement session other than to present oral questions.

“This, therefore, avoids the need for attendance in person. People who present petitions, deputations or questions and members who ask oral questions will be able to do so virtually.

“In exceptional circumstances, such as when a member of the public has some special need, a facility will be made available for members or members of the public to present their questions, petitions, etc, in person via a link at Hove Town Hall which will be relayed via Teams.

“But the member answering the question or responding to the petition/deputation will not be required to attend in person.”

The Argus: Councillors might gather at the Brighton CentreCouncillors might gather at the Brighton Centre

Unlike formal policy decisions, the council’s public engagement sessions fall outside the legal rules requiring councillors to vote in person.

Should the proposals be agreed, then the formal full council business would start at 6.30pm or half an hour after the public engagement session ends.

The proposals going before the policy and resources committee suggest that attendance in the main chamber at Hove Town Hall is kept either to 14 councillors or 40 out of the 54.

The number of councillors would be split proportionately between the three political parties and independents.

The report did not recommend all 54 councillors attending meetings in the chamber at Hove Town Hall together because of the challenges around social distancing.

The report added that these health and safety measures would be kept under review.

The policy and resources committee is due to meet at Hove Town Hall at 4pm next Thursday. The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.