Public 'question time' should be introduced to Sunderland council meetings, say Lib Dems

Liberal Democrat councillors Stephen OBrien (left) and Niall Hodson (right) outside Sunderland Civic Centre.
Liberal Democrat councillors Stephen OBrien (left) and Niall Hodson (right) outside Sunderland Civic Centre.

Taxpayers should get the chance to quiz their representatives in Question Time-style sessions at council meetings, the Lib Dems have suggested.

Sunderland Liberal Democrats are calling for a "Public Question Time" to be introduced at full meetings of the city council to allow residents to ask questions and challenge the council and councillors directly.

Mel Speding

Mel Speding

Sunderland Liberal Democrat councillors Niall Hodson and Stephen O’Brien have put forward a motion for debate at the council meeting on Wednesday September 20, which reads: “This Council believes that members of the public should be able to ask questions on notice at meetings of Sunderland City Council”.

If the majority of councillors agree, it could be voted through.

Councillor Hodson, who represents Millfield and Thornholme, said: “One of the major frustrations I hear when speaking to residents in Sunderland is that they feel that the council doesn’t listen to them or care about their views.”

“I think it’s only right that the public should have the ability to ask questions of the council in public, especially when it is making really controversial decisions like closing our City Library and cutting back on street cleaning."

Councillor O'Brien, who represents Grindon and Thorney Close, added: "People often tell me they think that the council is remote and isolated and many decisions are taken without sufficient consultation, or without answering questions from the public."

Councillor O'Brien said the council, which is controlled by the majority Labour group, should be held accountable for decisions impacting on the lives of people in Sunderland.

He added: “Other North East local authorities including South Tyneside Council, North Tyneside Council, Durham County Council, and Newcastle City Council allow members of the public to pose questions at meetings – why does Sunderland City Council think it should be any different?"

Councillor Mel Speding, Cabinet Secretary for Sunderland City Council, however, took a dim view of the two councillors' remarks.

He said: "The two Liberal Democrats on the council might like to refresh their memories how the 73 other councillors in our city regularly hold ward surgeries and members of the public can speak and raise questions at the council’s North, East, West, Coalfield and Washington area committees.

"This council welcomes feedback and comment, many people do already contact the council and raise questions, and we are always looking at more ways and means of increasing public engagement and participation, a point the Liberal Democrats seem to have forgotten."