Sunderland’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors are ‘motivated by money’ - says Labour council leader

Labour council leader Graeme Miller.
Labour council leader Graeme Miller.

‘Out and out greed’ was the motivation for an attempted power grab by opposition groups in Sunderland, according to the ruling Labour Party.

Sunderland City Council leader Graeme Miller accused the city’s Conservatives and Liberal Democrats of being motivated by money as they tried to weaken Labour’s grip on the levers of power.

Tory leader Robert Oliver.

Tory leader Robert Oliver.

But the groups, who control 20 of the council’s 75 seats, insist they were simply trying to reflect the results of local elections held earlier this month (May).

This saw them use last night’s (Wednesday, May 15) annual council meeting to request a handful of senior positions reserved for Labour councillors, which also come with cash allowances, be given to them instead.

Coun Miller said: “I think it’s in very poor taste and clearly shows what we’re seeing isn’t about the fact that Labour Party councillors have them [allowances] – it’s that they don’t have them and they want them.

“I think that’s out and out greed and I hope residents will start picking up on that.

Liberal Democrat leader Niall Hodson.

Liberal Democrat leader Niall Hodson.

“The notion Labour councillors are all about money is wrong, we’re the ruling group because that is the way the city voted.”

The council’s annual meeting is held once a year to agree the city council’s calendar of meetings for the next 12 months and who should sit on its various committees.

Following this month’s local elections, Labour lost nine councillors at the expense of gains by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as well as UKIP and the Green Party, which both entered the council chamber for the first time.

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Earlier in the week, the Conservatives called for the new balance of power to be reflected in opposition councillors being given the opportunity to become vice chairmen of key panels, particularly on committees covering areas that no longer have a Labour majority.

Labour also announced its own plans to cut the number of Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) paid to senior councillors, such as committee chairmen and vice chairmen.

Tory leader Coun Robert Oliver told last night’s meeting: “We’re guided by the principle that scrutiny [of the council] should be led by opposition councillors.”

He was backed by Lib Dem leader Niall Hodson.

Coun Hodson added: “We have cronyism that needs to stop, with the same friends and families controlling every pot of money.

“We’re uncomfortable with the way the cabinet is making appointments and we believe there should be greater political balance, particularly in scrutiny.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service