Political row over meeting time changes at Sunderland City Council
A move to hold a key council meeting two hours earlier could make it “difficult” for working councillors to carry out their duties, city Conservatives have said.
Full council meetings summon all 75 councillors to discuss major issues, hold debates, launch motions and approve the annual budget.
Last week, Sunderland City Council held its annual meeting marking the start of the new council year – including electing a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor and setting meeting timetables.
However, new plans for 2019/20 will now see full council take place at 4pm instead of 6pm.
Labour bosses have said the changes will allow councillors and staff to get away earlier – with some meetings having stretched to four hours or more in the past.
But deputy leader of the opposition group, Coun Antony Mullen, said the changes – which he claims were rubber stamped without consultation – would affect working councillors.
And he has now claimed the move “sends the wrong message to the public about who should be a councillor in Sunderland”.
“The only people who benefit from this are those Labour councillors who claim so much in allowances that they don’t need to work,” he said.
“It completely undermines the public’s right to choose their representatives by making it more difficult for people in employment to fulfill the duties of a councillor.
“This year, the Conservatives gained four new councillors, all of whom are of working age.
“This change makes it is more difficult for them, and for other councillors who work for a living, to attend full council meetings and do the job we were elected to do.”
But council leader, Graeme Miller, has hit back, stating the changes were the “best option” for councillors and staff.
“I find it a real shame that Coun Mullen considers serving on Sunderland City Council such an inconvenience,” he said.
“Like most Tories, he seems to live in an antiquated world. A world where work starts at 9am and finishes at 5pm, something that does not reflect the modern workplace at all.
“What about the people who work shifts through the evening, may work flexible hours or make use of a work from home policy?
“Should they be excluded, because they have a different working pattern that isn’t conducive with the previous meeting start time?
“He is aware that whatever time a council meeting takes place, it will impact on somebody’s schedule, but that is just something that comes with the role of a councillor and is all part of the job of representing the people who voted for you.”
He added: “Coun Mullen fails to see that it’s not just councillors who attend full council meetings. The needs of staff must also be considered.
“Throughout the past year, council meetings have regularly finished around 10pm, moving the start time forward is, in our opinion, the best option.
“The change in time means that we should be able to get through all business in one night and that councillors and, in particular, staff can get home at a reasonable time.”
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service