All full South Tyneside Council meetings cancelled until 2021 - chiefs respond after concerns raised over democracy

Full meetings of South Tyneside Council are set to relaunch in 2021, borough bosses have confirmed.

No full council meetings will take place in South Tyneside for the rest of the year
No full council meetings will take place in South Tyneside for the rest of the year

During the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown, the Government gave permission for councils to hold meetings remotely in line with social distancing regulations.

Many councils across the country embraced the technology available to allow decision-making to continue to take place in public.

Although South Tyneside Council now broadcasts the majority of its meetings live on YouTube, full borough council meetings are the exception.

The meetings, which normally include all 54 elected councillors discussing issues and launching motions, have not been held since February 2020.

Calls have been made for the meetings to be reinstated in line with other councils in the North East, but officials have said technology issues are the main reason for the hiatus.

The Labour council’s ruling cabinet signed off the authority’s diary until the end of January 2021 – with no full council meetings listed.

Chiefs stressed the council is still working to bring the meetings back online early next year.

“Whilst Zoom has allowed the council to be responsive and continue to function and operate during the pandemic, despite these exceptional circumstances, we need to appreciate that there is a limit on the number of people who can be displayed on screen at any one time,” said Cllr Iain Malcolm, leader of the council.

“Council officers have expressed concerns with regards to the mechanisms and the logistics of effectively managing the participation of so many people in a single session and continue to consider and test the design, implementation, and delivery required for a meeting of borough council.

“Please be assured that officers in our digital and ICT teams continue to work through the technical side of this and they will continue as quickly as possible to try and reach a resolve whilst also managing other council priorities including those from council services serving our most vulnerable residents and businesses at this unprecedented time.

“Officers are hopeful that meetings of full council will be able to resume in early new year 2021.”

Cllr Malcolm was speaking at Wednesday’s (October 7) virtual cabinet meeting, which was held via videolink and broadcast live.

Opposition Green Party councillor, Cllr David Francis, previously wrote to the council leader calling for full council meetings to resume by November 2020 “at the latest.”

In the letter, he raised concerns about a “lockdown on local democracy” – a claim that the council denied in a statement last week.

Following the cabinet meeting, Cllr Francis said that failing to resume full council meetings “denied the democratically elected opposition this platform” and did not give residents the “representation they deserve.”

He added the council’s stance on the issue was allowing the borough to “get left further and further behind more proactive, forward-thinking councils up and down the country.”

Cllr Francis went on to say: “Residents deserve the same level of representation as their neighbours in Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and all of the many other places that are already holding full council meetings online.

“This simply isn’t good enough. The people of South Tyneside deserve better.”

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