“Councillor French, are you there,” came the voice of John Pollard, chairman of Cornwall Council’s constitution and governance committee.

“We require the vote of the St Austell jury,” he joked, with a timely quip considering the Eurovision Song Contest should have been held this weekend.

This was not a call for scores for cheesy Europop though, but efforts to get the votes of committee members in Cornwall Council’s first ever online “virtual” meeting.

There have been no formal meetings of Cornwall Council or its various committees since March when lockdown came in during the coronavirus crisis.

Instead local democracy has been on hold with any decisions which had to be made being delegated to officers in consultation with the council’s ruling Cabinet.

In a normal month there would be dozens of meetings, whether that is planning committees deciding the latest developments to scrutiny committees looking at the decisions and policies of the council and associated organisations.

Last month the government published new guidelines allowing councils to hold virtual meetings – using technology to conduct business online.

Thursday’s meeting of the constitution and governance committee was the first to enter this bold new world.

There was just one item on the agenda – how the virtual meetings should take place.

While some councils have been quick to adopt the new technology some have also paid the price with one council in Somerset having a meeting sabotaged by pranksters who took advantage of the technology to join with smutty pseudonyms and posted obscene pictures.

It was a trap that Cornwall Council leader Julian German said the council did not want to fall into.

That is why councillors considered a detailed policy which sets out how the meetings will be conducted.

The council is using Microsoft Teams software to host the meetings and councillors will only be heard and not seen – either by each other or the public.

And the press and public will be allowed to listen in to the meetings. Although arrangements are in place to allow the public to participate in meetings where allowed – for example planning committees – through telephone links.

Those councillors whose broadband links are not strong enough to sustain a connection to an online meeting will also take part by phone.

Some committee members had questions – in a normal meeting when a councillor declares an interest in an item they have to leave the room while the discussion and vote takes place. In the virtual world they could leave the meeting and then rejoin as a member of the public and listen in.

Melanie O’Sullivan, service director for assurance and monitoring officer, said that while in a virtual meeting councillors would be able to listen, they would not be able to influence the meeting.

In a normal meeting, she explained, councillors could influence proceedings by, for example, “giving someone a dirty look”. Something which would not be an issue in the virtual world.

There were also concerns about the reliability of technology with the guidelines stating that if connectivity was lost then meetings may have to be adjourned.

As with any new systems the council officers admitted that this one could be subject to change as the council learns to adapt under the new arrangements.

The committee agreed to the new guidelines – although under the current system these will now go to the chief executive rather than the council for approval.

With 123 councillors the first full council meeting will be the one to watch – nobody will envy the chairman trying to control that many people on one video call.

But that is not until July so perhaps by then councillors will have embraced this new world and there won’t be any getting “nul points” for their grasp of technology.