Councillors agree to limit full council meetings to three hours - during session that lasted around five hours

A five hour council meeting saw councillors discussing a range of issues, including deciding to limit session to three hours.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 3:07 pm
Sunderland Civic Centre council chamber.
Sunderland Civic Centre council chamber.

Councillors spent roughly five hours debating at their last session before May’s local elections – despite agreeing new rules intended to cut the time meetings take.

Revised procedure rules for Sunderland City Council are set to limit gatherings to three hours overall, with restrictions on the types of questions which can be asked, shorter speeches and more powers for the mayor, who chairs meetings.

But the move prompted scepticism from opposition groups, who claimed it risked handing power to leaders at the expense of rank and file councillors and undermining staff.

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“I think we all accept the spirit of trying to cut down meetings to a couple of hours,” said Conservative opposition leader Antony Mullen.

“My concern is this could drag council officers into political debates which could then lead to us being seen to criticise them [when that may not be the case].”

Cllr Mullen was speaking at last night’s (Wednesday, March 24) meeting of the full city council, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

He was backed by the opposition Liberal Democrats, with Cllr Stephen O’Brien adding the move risked creating ‘two classes of councillor’.

The two opposition groups, together with UKIP, requested the plans be taken back to the drawing board, but this call was rejected by the ruling Labour group, which voted to agree the new rules.

“The Labour group will not be accepting any reference back on this matter,” said council leader Graeme Miller.

“We need to remember why we’re here – the sheer amount of dissatisfaction and disruption caused to staff, councillors’ and the public’s lives by meetings going on for six or eight hours, being adjourned, coming back the following day and causing huge disruption.”

Other highlights from the meeting included:

Updates on plans for about 140 km of cycle routes to be created across Wearside; It was revealed the council has recruited a new team of Covid marshalls to patrol busy areas, such as Roker seafront, and enforce social distancing and other pandemic regulations; City bosses promised a ‘mini tip’ for the Coalfield area would be up and running ‘as quickly as possible’; Up to 100 new homes could be built and put on the market at ‘affordable’ rents after the council struck a deal with three separate owners of land near Suffolk Street and Mowbray Road.

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