Call for non-binary gender update to Northumberland County Council constitution

A Northumberland councillor has called for the authority’s constitution to be updated so the language reflects those who may not identify with a traditional gender.

Friday, 8th November 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 2:18 pm
Northumberland County Council's County Hall

At a full meeting of the county council, Coun Gregah Roughead said: “Given that the council has won multiple accolades for its work on equality, the core document of the council could potentially be discriminatory towards members of staff of this authority who don’t identify as either he or she.

“I’m not going to propose line by line changing words of the constitution, but could we give the authority to the monitoring officer to go away and update it so it refers to members/officers and if you need to assign a gender, that would be they or their.

“This being the council’s principal document, that might give confidence to members of staff who might not identify as he or she and mean perhaps a culture change in documents.”

Coun Roughead, a Berwick ward member, had called last year for the document governing the council to be reviewed, which resulted in the creation of a working group.

An interim report from this group, featuring a number of suggested changes and reminders about the rules of procedure, was presented to the meeting, with the recommendations agreed.

But Coun Georgina Hill, another Berwick member, described the brief report as ‘extremely frustrating and disappointing’.

She pointed out that she had seconded Coun Roughead’s motion more than a year ago, given that they both have an interest in this area, adding that it was ‘discourteous and unusual’ that neither was invited onto the working group.

“For 15 months, this looks like a couple of hours’ work,” she added. “I have to say this looks like a tick-box exercise.”

Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, responded by saying: “As far as I can see, it works pretty well here, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Coun Barry Flux added: “I found the work on this committee very useful, I found it was conducted in a very good way with a lot of give and take.”

Coun Roughead also said he agreed with a point made by Labour leader, Coun Susan Dungworth, that one of the key recommendations was in relation to using the latest technology for council meetings, for example, holding virtual meetings for bodies with no decision-making powers and introducing buttons or something similar for voting in the council chamber.