The Council’s Annual Meeting was held tonight, but it was hardly back to business as usual.
The annual meeting is the first time in the municipal year that the full council meets. It involves all elected members, from all parties. Some are newly elected, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Others are furrowed political faces, well-drilled in the procedure and the protocol. Falling each May, which usually means coming hot on the heels of local elections, it’s generally a ceremonial affair with little actual business or debate being conducted. If you were to attend (as the public are welcome to do) or to watch online, then you would basically get to hear a bunch of speeches congratulating the incoming chair of this and the outgoing chair of the other. In a depature from tradition there was no handing over of shiny chains tonight – too much of a lurgy risk.
Joking aside, tonight’s annual meeting was significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because last year there wasn’t one. In May 2020 we were in the grip of the first wave of coronavirus and everything was cancelled – including the local elections. I’d be interested if any local history buffs could tell me whether the council has ever skipped an annual meeting before. I very much doubt it. Secondly, tonight was special because it was the first time since March 2020 that we’ve actually met in person. Due to the ongoing social distancing measures associated with being together indoors we couldn’t all fit in the usual council chamber at the Quadrant and still be compliant. Instead we had to meet in the badminton hall at the Parks Leisure Cente in North Shields. I imagine coucils all over the country have had to do the same. It really was quite an odd set up, but well done to the team who had managed to fit us all in, install a PA system and a livestream to YouTube. Given the choice I think all parties would have unanimously voted to hold the meeting over Teams, but the Prime Minister made the decision and imposed it on us without consultation. That’s how he rolls.
One of the many things we do at the annual meeting is to formally ratify the appointments to the Mayor’s Cabinet, the various sub-committees and also the ‘outside bodies’. This time around I was very happy to be elected into my first Chair’s role, looking after the Economic Prosperity sub-committee. It’s an area that I’m very passionate about, and there is so much important work going on in it right now. Front and centre there is the task of recovering from the Covid-slump, there are also Town Centre regen projects, not least in North Shields, then there’s the Green energy transition too… which is massive. So lots to get stuck in to.
Any readers with an interest in reading the various reports associated with the meeting can find them here. Be careful not to print them out though – they run to 180 pages!