Concerns over ideas 'black hole' as new rule book for South Tyneside Council approved

A revised rulebook for South Tyneside Council has been formally signed off, despite concerns from opposition councillors that some ideas have “disappeared into a black hole”.

By Chris Binding
Friday, 20th May 2022, 1:08 pm

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.

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South Shields Town Hall.

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.”

Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council, said the Constitution Committee played a “guardian” role and that all members took their responsibilities seriously.

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.

The new constitution includes updates and clarity to rules around scrutiny, clarity around operating procedures for Community Area Forums and changes to the voting practices at borough council meetings – with the Mayor no longer being allowed to vote.

The full revised constitution can be found on South Tyneside Council’s website at southtyneside.gov.uk

In addition, the council has a “motion book” at the town hall which records the final outcome of motions discussed at full council.

Members of the public can request to see the motion book in person.