Letter prompts spending complaint

A letter about a bus stop and a zebra crossing has prompted a row over spending at Sunderland City Council.

Friday, 17th August 2018, 4:55 pm
Updated Friday, 17th August 2018, 5:00 pm

Sandhill ward councillors Stephen O’Brien and Lynn Appleby, both members of the Liberal Democrat group, sent a letter to households in Grindon in June to highlight concerns about transport and safety at Grindon Mill.

THat has prompted a formal complaint by the deputy leader of the council, who claims the pair misused council resources to post the notice.

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Labour councillor Michael Mordey said: “In my opinion, it was an unsolicited party political newsletter.

“I fully accept councillors have access to a reasonable postage allowance, but in my experience, I must have sent 10 letters at most during my time on the council and it has always been to the person who has written to me.

“I don’t think council tax payers should have to pay for unsolicited letters.”

The letter itself was dated June 4 and printed on paper featuring the council letterhead.

It told recipients a ‘particularly dangerous paving stone’ near Grindon Mill bus stop had been replaced and highlighted plans to move a zebra crossing.

It was signed by Coun O’Brien, who was referred to as ‘Liberal Democrat councillor for Grindon’ and Coun Appleby, ‘Councillor for Grindon’.

Coun Appleby was elected as a Lib Dem candidate, but is officially unaffiliated after being suspended from the party during May’s local elections campaign over offensive social media posts, although she is part of the ‘Liberal Democrat and Others’ political grouping on the council.

The third councillor for the Sandhill ward, which includes Grindon, Labour’s Debra Waller, was not referenced in the letter.

Responding to Coun Mordey’s complaint, Coun O’Brien said: “I put out a letter, you get a budget for resources where you can put out letters to residents if they ask questions.

“A lot of people asked about the Aldi development [on the former Dewhirst site], a bus stop and a road getting resurfaced.

“Instead of knocking on doors and because the bus stop was pretty urgent and if anyone wanted to make an objection they needed to be made, I decided to use council resources.

“It was non-political, I did not mention being a Liberal Democrat and I did not mention that Lynne was not a Liberal Democrat.”

Liberal Democrat leader Coun Niall Hodson said he thought the letter was ‘completely within the rules’.

Complaints about councillors are first referred to the council’s legal department, before being passed to the Standards Committee, which is expected to consider the matter in the coming months.

Coun Appleby has been contacted for comment.

 

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service