New Conservative Sedgefield MP defends still holding seats on two different councils
A new Conservative MP is still holding two council seats more than two months on from the last general election.
Paul Howell was elected to ex-Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s old Sedgefield seat in December’s poll, which saw Boris Johnson’s Tories propelled into government with an 80-seat majority.
Following the result the former accountant said he planned to step down from the positions he already held on Durham County Council (DCC) and Darlington Borough Council (DBC).
But so far he is yet to hand his notice into either council, claiming by waiting he can reduce the cost to the public of any by-elections by ensuring they coincide with scheduled mayoral and Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner (PCVC) elections.
Howell said: “It’s very straightforward, there is always a cost to elections and there’s two scheduled, for the Tees Valley Mayor and the Durham PCVC, both of which cover the areas I’m a councillor in.
“I’m going to give the money they pay me [in allowances] to local charities.
“I don’t know when [I will step down], probably in March or April.
“I haven’t double checked, but my understanding is if I put my resignation in today there are certain requirements but they can call one almost immediately.”
Howell has been a councillor for DDC’s Aycliffe North and Middridge division since 2017 and was also elected to represent DBC’s Hummersknott ward in the latest round of local elections, in May (2019).
County councillors in Durham are entitled to an annual basic allowance worth £13,300, while Darlington councillors can claim £8,188 a year.
Other payments for ‘special responsibilities’, dependants or travel expenses are also available.
According to the Parliamentary ‘Register of Members’ Financial Interests’, Howell receives allowances worth £13,000 a year from DCC for 10 hours work a month and £682.33 a month from DBC, also for 10 hours work a month.
His decision to delay standing down has been criticised by Paul Daly, chairman of the Sedgefield Constituency Labour Party (CLP).
“He has made a promise to stand down,” he said, “he didn’t put a timescale on that, but I don’t think anyone thought he meant in six months’ time.
“In the meantime he says he is dedicating 10 hours a month to his [council] roles and I think that is a kick in the teeth to other hard working councillors trying to help their residents.”
Daly accepted Howell’s argument about the cost of by-elections outside the normal election cycle, but added it may be little comfort to families in his wards with issues.
He added: “We’re just trying to hold him to account and yes there may be elections coming up, but there’s also issues in his ward so who is representing these people in the meantime?”
Elections to replace the late Ron Hogg as Durham PCVC, which affects voters in County Durham and Darlington, and for the Tees Valley Combined Authority Mayor, which affects voters in Darlington, are due to be held on Thursday, May 7.