Bid for more evening meetings at South Tyneside Council gets voted down by councillors

A proposed shake-up of South Tyneside Council committees to potentially move more meetings to evenings has been defeated by a vote.

A motion had called for more council meetings to take place in the evenings.
A motion had called for more council meetings to take place in the evenings.

South Tyneside Council holds several democratic meetings that are open to the public from the decision-making cabinet and full council, to scrutiny panels putting council policy and performance under the microscope.

Community Area Forums (CAFs) also give local councillors powers to direct funding to areas of need in their wards and for the public to question the police and fire service.

At a recent full council meeting, a motion was presented by opposition councillors calling for a closer look at the times council meetings take place.

This included establishing a cross-party work group, working throughout 2021/22 and reporting back to the annual full council in May 2022 with “recommendations for selected committees to be scheduled on evenings for 2022/23.”

Councillor Glenn Thompson, leader of the South Tyneside Independents Group, said many local authorities were moving meetings to evenings which encouraged greater “public accessibility and participation” in council business.

The motion said that other than full council meetings, South Tyneside Council only have eight CAF meetings that are held on a evening each year.

With a total of 194 CAFs and committees which could be considered for evening schedule, Cllr Thompson explained, the local authority “needed to improve this situation.”

He added: “As a council, we should ensure no unnecessary obstacles exist that may discourage residents of the borough from actively engaging in the democratic process or standing to become a councillor.”

A debate on the issue was held at a full council meeting at Temple Park Leisure Centre on July 22, 2021.

But Labour councillor Ann Best raised concerns about the motion making “assumptions” that the recommendations of the cross-party working group would include more evening meetings being scheduled.

The newly-elected councillor, who was formerly the South Tyneside Council officer responsible for democratic engagement in committee meetings, noted the council’s “extensive and intensive work” with local communities to form the current arrangements for meeting times.

This includes flexibility to vary individual meeting times to meet community needs and the capacity to hold special meetings.

Cllr Best said: “The resounding and unequivocal outcome of all of that engagement work to determine the best time for committee meetings was that there isn’t a perfect time.

“That is why we built that flexibility in which we still currently have to my knowledge each annual council to determine the timing of meetings.”

She added: “The motion does contain some assertions that really do need to be validated, tested and proven to make sure that we’re not creating a situation where we include a new group of people at committee meetings but exclude a different group and to get the balance absolutely right.”

Councillor David Francis, leader of the council’s Green Group, said it was “sensible to try and strike a better balance if we can” with regards to meeting times.

Meanwhile, Labour councillor Angela Hamilton proposed a verbal amendment which included launching a consultation on meeting times.

The amendment included “the cross-party working group consulting with elected members and the public to identify options for making meetings more accessible to members of the public, which may include holding evening meetings in some circumstances.”

Although this was agreed by opposition leader Glenn Thompson, the amended motion failed to win support across the council chamber.

A total of eight councillors voted in favour and 29 councillors voted against.

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