This evening saw the (informal) re-commencement of sub-committees, following a short break for the local elections.
I currently sit on four sub-committees: Economic Prosperity, Children, Education & Skills, Housing, and the Health & Wellbeing Board (which technically isn’t a sub-committee, but…) Tonight was the Economic Prosperity sub-committee, which considers all aspects of the economic life of North Tyneside, within the context of the wider region. Right now, as you would expect, the focus is very much on what the council can pro-actively do to support local businesses to bounce back after the covid pandemic.
Tonight we mainly looked at the use of the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund, which is soon to enter a new phase of delivery as the Welcome Back Fund. We also heard a brief update on the development of the Swans Centre for Innovation in Wallsend, and asked a few pertient questions about it.
There’s probably a technical definition of what a sub-committee is, but from my perspective they seem to serve two main purposes…
Firstly, they provide a form of public scrutiny and accountability. As committee members we can (and frequently do) call officers of the council, and sometimes outside bodies, to present to us what’s going on within their department. This generally amounts to something of a friendly grilling, although it can sometimes become more serious if we detect that important questions are being dodged.
Secondly, they create a space for the development of streams of work that can inform the wider policy-making of the Mayor and her Cabinet. The sub-committees have the power to task certain packages of work on hot topics. For example, not too long ago (pre-pandemic) within the Economic Prosperity group, an important report was generated into the future of North Tyneside’s high streets. It dealt with the challenges and opportunities that exist in the towns of North Shields, Whitley Bay, Wallsend and Killingworth, as well as in some of the smaller district centres too.
An interesting feature of the sub-committees is that, much like Parliamentary committees, they are cross-party. This gives a rare opportunity for political ‘opponents’ to get to hear from one another constructively, outside of the main council chamber, which can tend to be more adverserial. I definitely think that’s a good thing for local democracy.