Plan to impose dress code for South Tyneside councillors attending public meetings dropped

Councillors have approved a new-look constitution for South Tyneside Council but stopped short of adopting an official ‘dress code.’

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 4:19 pm
Councillors approved a new constitution for South Tyneside Council but stopped short of adopting an official ‘dress code.’
Councillors approved a new constitution for South Tyneside Council but stopped short of adopting an official ‘dress code.’

Constitutions describe the way in which a council conducts its business, how it operates and how decisions are made.

Over the past six months, South Tyneside Council’s Constitution Committee has been reviewing the current constitution with the aim of improving transparency, openness and accountability.

The updated 384-page document includes many changes, from clearer rules on what information is available to members of the public and councillors to more information on allowances and clearer explanations to help the public understand council decision-making processes.

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The meeting was the first held in public since the start of the pandemic.

Procedure rules, which guide the process of council meetings, saw significant amendments including changes to questions, the submission of petitions and motions.

New protocols were also proposed on the use of social media by councillors and guidance for councillors on membership on outside bodies.

However, proposals for a dress code at council meetings sparked concerns from several councillors across the political spectrum.

This included “business-like dress” being ‘appropriate in all situations’, a ban on a list of clothing items including t-shirts, baseball caps and ‘flip flops’ and the potential for an elected member to be asked to leave a meeting if they attend “inappropriately dressed.”

At a meeting of annual council on Tuesday (May 18), it was announced that the proposed dress code would be scrapped.

Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of the Labour-run council, proposed the changes as an amendment to the constitution for 2021/22, which was later approved.

Cllr Dixon said: “Before I move this constitution for approval, I would like to take this opportunity to propose one amendment to the council rule 45, dress code.

“I have received a lot of feedback from many councillors on this proposal and I consider it appropriate in all circumstances to suggest it is entirely removed from the constitution.”

During the meeting, further amendments to the constitution were also proposed by opposition councillors.

Independent councillor Glenn Thompson opposed a ‘cap’ on a maximum of four motions being considered at any one meeting – suggesting it was a move to “restrict debate and restrict democracy.”

Meanwhile, Green Party councillor David Francis proposed amendments to the constitution which, he argued, would improve local democracy and the purpose and effectiveness of council meetings.

This included allowing two councillors, a proposer and seconder, to bring a motion to full council for debate as opposed to the current requirement for five signatures from councillors.

Another amendment from Cllr Francis also aimed to make it easier for councillors to request a recorded vote at full council meetings.

This included at least two councillors being able to request a recorded vote, rather than the proposals for ‘at least five’ in the draft constitution.

Following debate, all amendments proposed by opposition councillors were defeated by majority votes.

The constitution was later approved with 42 votes in favour, seven against and one abstention.

Councillors were told the constitution was a ‘working document’ and that further amendments and changes could be put forward to the Constitution Committee in coming months.

Council leader, Cllr Tracey Dixon, added it was appropriate as part of “good governance arrangements” for the council to “keep its constitution under regular review and to amend it in order to reflect experience and changing circumstances.”

To watch a video of Tuesday’s annual council meeting, visit the council’s website here: www.southtyneside.gov.uk/watchcouncilmeetings

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