Opposition councillors bemoan ‘Labour monopoly’ on ‘super council’

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson (left) and cabinet secretary Mel Speding.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson (left) and cabinet secretary Mel Speding.
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MEMBERS of the opposition claim their worst fear – a ‘Labour monopoly’ – has been confirmed as Sunderland’s interim representation at the North East super council was agreed.

The all-Labour appointments, agreed at a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s cabinet, include councillors David Tate and Norma Wright, who will sit on the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee, the function of which is to hold decision makers accountable.

In local authorities, membership of overview and scrutiny committees must proportionally reflect the different political groups on the council and cannot include cabinet members.

“This has confirmed my suspicion that the opposition will have no place in what will be a Labour monopoly,” Conservative Coun Peter Wood said. “It is a ridiculous situation, where the scrutiny committee is made up of Labour members who are scrutinising members of their own party.”

But city council leader Paul Watson says that as the seven local authorities come together, the political balance will even out and be proportionate.

Coun Watson was appointed the council’s member of the Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle Upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland (DGNNTNST) Combined Authority in March, with deputy leader Henry Trueman as his substitute.

“I think Peter is only looking at it from one particular point of view,” Coun Watson said. “The political balance comes across the whole of the combined authority. There will be Conservatives and liberals sitting on the scrutiny board. He needs to look at the constitution. My understanding is that the other councils will supply members of their opposition.”

Coun Trueman has now been appointed to the governance committee, Coun James Blackburn to the North East joint transport committee, and Coun Mel Speding to its Tyne and Wear sub-committee. The appointments are effective up until the annual council meeting on June 11.

Coun Wood, who sat on the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (ITA), which has now been dissolved, says the changes could prejudice the consultation for the bid to introduce quality contracts for bus companies.

“The transport committee is 100 per cent Labour,” he added. “It will not encourage those who aren’t members of Labour to want to work with the Labour Party. There is therefore the danger that the primary objective, of the North East speaking with one voice, will not be achieved.”

The first meeting of the DGNNTNST Combined Authority took place on Tuesday. It is a strategic authority with government-devolved powers over transport, economic development and regeneration.