TORY and Lib Dem councillors have blasted plans for a new North East “super council” in a row over scrutiny.
Sunderland Deputy Tory leader, Coun Peter Wood, revealed opposition councillors were withdrawing support for the scheme at the last ever meeting of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority yesterday.
The new Combined Authority is due to take over responsibility for transport across the region when it launches in the next few weeks.
It will be led by a board made up of the leaders and elected mayors of the seven councils involved – Sunderland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Northumberland and Durham – whose decisions will be monitored by a scrutiny committee.
Coun Wood, leader of the opposition on the ITA board, said his members had been told there would be no place for them on the Combined Authority’s committees.
“We supported the concept that local authorities in the region should be working more closely together and we welcomed calls that the North East should speak with one voice,” said Coun Wood.
“But if the North East is to speak with one voice, it is very important that everyone is involved and everyone feels a sense of ownership.”
Coun Wood said he had asked Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson about what role there would be for opposition councillors, in holding the new body to account.
“I asked the council leader about what opposition representation there would be,” he said. “I received a very clean answer – none.
“There will be no political balance and no opposition involvement.
“Frankly, the idea of objective, constructive and productive scrutiny, comprising Labour members scrutinising Labour members, is a nonsense.
“I have to say, in the light of the response I received, the opposition can no longer give the Combined Authority its blessing.
“To take all power is, in my view, an abuse of power.”
His comments were echoed by Newcastle Lib Dem councillor Greg Stone, who said; “There is a feeling that has been done to us, rather than with us.
“We do feel there has been frankly little effort to engage or involve other groups in this.
“We know we’re not likely to change the overall decision, but we have to make our concern registered at the way this has been carried forward.”
Coun Watson said opposition councillors were jumping the gun by withdrawing their support for the new authority.
“They need to find out what is in the constitution,” he said.
“The constitution is not a finalised document yet.”