Over the past year, the council’s Constitution Committee has been reviewing the key document, which describes the way the council operates and how decisions are made.
The latest proposed changes to the constitution following the annual review were presented at Tuesday’s (May 17) annual council meeting at South Shields Town Hall.
Although the document for 2022/23 was eventually approved, it was not without criticism from opposition councillors over what was missing.
Independent councillor Glenn Thompson noted that a number of opposition motions, previously referred from full council to the Constitution Committee, had not appeared in the revised constitution.
This included motions on evening committee meetings, additional structures to the council’s discretionary fund and for a public question time at full council, which were discussed at previous full council meetings.
A decision was taken by the Constitution Committee on April 27, 2022, to agree the final changes and amendments to the constitution ahead of adoption by full council.
At the April meeting, it was highlighted that the three opposition motions had been shelved.
However detailed discussions around these motions, which formed the final revised constitution document, happened in private working group sessions.
Cllr Thompson, who sits on the Constitution Committee, said the process of referring motions from full council was not in the spirit of transparency.
He told full council this week: “What I’m concerned with is that when opposition motions, or any motions for that matter, are deferred to the Constitution Committee from full council, they can disappear into a black hole barely to be mentioned again.
“Motions that are tabled in full council should be decided in full council.
“By deferring motions we’re stripping away any level of openness, transparency and accountability that’s available in full council.”
Councillor David Francis, Green Group leader, said there were a number of cases where motions to full council had been “kicked into the long grass”.
The new opposition leader suggested that rejecting the named opposition motions did not benefit South Tyneside residents and instead, created “unnecessary obstacles for working people to engage with local democracy” while “stopping the public directly holding the council to account”.
Referencing Labour Party losses in recent local elections in South Tyneside, Cllr Francis suggested decisions were being made that “served the party rather than the public”.
Councillor Ian Forster, Conservative member, added he understood why some motions had to be referred elsewhere but that in several cases, there was no “real reason” to do so.
Taking more decisions on motions at full council, Cllr Forster explained, would “appease some of the public who are very dubious about the way the council works.”
Hitting back at the Green Group leader, the Labour chief said: “What we do in this council chamber is for the residents and the businesses of this borough, not for party purposes and I do take offence to that comment.”
Meanwhile, Labour councillor Wilf Flynn disputed comments that motions “went into a black hole” and said that every motion was discussed in detail and resolved by the Constitution Committee, of which he is a member.