Political rivals in war of words over ‘Question Time’ at Sunderland Council meetings

Sunderland Civic Centre, where children's services are based.
Sunderland Civic Centre, where children's services are based.

A war of words has broken out between rival political parties in Sunderland over the issue of voters being able to ask councillors questions face-to-face at civic meetings.

A report going to the Cabinet meeting on November 22 recommends that an amendment be made to the Council’s Procedure rules so that members of the public are able to ask questions at council meetings.

Coun Niall Hodson

Coun Niall Hodson

It comes after Liberal Democrat councillors Stephen O’Brien and Niall Hodson put a motion to the full council meeting last month, which passed unanimously.

Liberal Democrat Group leader Coun Hodson welcomed the move and said Liberal Democrats in the city had been campaigning for decades to give the public the ability to challenge the council directly.

But Labour councillor and Cabinet Secretary Mel Speding accused the pair of being “economical with the truth” and said such an opportunity already existed.

He said: “It was the majority Labour Group who had to amend their Notice of Motion as this fickle pair of LibDems didn’t know that the public already have the opportunity to ask questions of councillors at meetings of Sunderland City Council.

Councillor Mel Speding.

Councillor Mel Speding.

“We the Labour Group, by a common sense amendment, have now clarified points on the public asking questions at these meetings.

Coun Hodson said: “I think it’s only right that residents should be able to ask questions of the council in public – after all, councillors ought to be accountable to the people they serve.

“One of the reasons I became involved in Sunderland politics is because I felt the Council is so arrogant and remote, and seems to take decisions without sufficiently engaging the public, or answering their questions.”

Under the proposals, a period of 15 minutes will be allowed at full council meetings for questions submitted by people who live, work or study in the city, to be addressed to the Leader or other member of the Executive.

Where it is considered that it will not be possible to answer all of the questions within 15 minutes, the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Mayor, will select those which will be put to the meeting.

Any questions which cannot be dealt with at the meeting, will receive a written answer.