A move to reintroduce free pest control services in Sunderland has been rejected.
The call came in a motion put forward by Liberal Democrats at a meeting of Sunderland City Council this week.
The Lib Dems say recent figures provided by the British Pest Control Association have shown that Sunderland currently has one of the highest rates for call-outs to deal with rat sightings, and has also had more infestations of rodent per head than any other authority in Britain.
The motion called on the council to recognise the dangers to health and safety posed by rats. It also said that more rats are increasingly becoming immune to standard poisons, and that more effective solutions might be needed to tackle the problem.
It also asked the council to reintroduce free pest control services for residents, to offer free advice to residents on how to prevent rat infestations at home and to lobby central government for more action to be taken on the issue.
However, the motion was voted down by a margin of 55-7, sparking disagreement between Lib Dems and the ruling Labour group.
Niall Hodson, Lib Dem councillor for Millfield, said: “Residents of Sunderland have long expressed concerns about problems with pest control and rat infestations. This is particularly true in the ward which I represent. The problems that they face with pests on a daily basis are borne out by recent figures released by the BPCA.
“Unfortunately, the City Council has done little to alleviate the problem in recent years. Labour councillors have cut public services left, right and centre. Free pest-control services for residents have disappeared. Other key services which might help to prevent pest problems (such as street cleaning and bin-collections) have also been cut back.”
But Labour councilor Michael Mordey, Portfolio Holder for city services, said that the British Pest Control Association has pointed out that higher figures could simply illustrate that the council is working effectively to manage the issue and encouraged members to vote against the motion.
He said the figure quoted in rat call outs that the council responded to in 2016-2017 was 2,384 - compared to more than 5,000 in 2015/16 when it was one of the few authorities in the country still offering a rat control service to the public free of charge.
He added: “It is to be expected that a service provided for free will attract a greater number of clients than a service provided at a charge, or not provided all.
“The council for budgeting reasons - that’s code for cuts - commenced charges for a rat control service in 2016 in line with vast number of other local authorities.
“Since that time the number of call outs has reduced.
“I am told there is no evidence that there is a particular problem with rats in Sunderland.
“And I am told our officers have seen no evidence of poison resistant rats and the rat poison used appears to be effective.”