Tories plan criminal record checks for councillors in Sunderland

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A Sunderland city councillor’s guilty plea to a child sex offence has led to calls for criminal record checks for all elected members.

The policy is at the heart of the Conservative Party’s manifesto for Sunderland in next month’s round of local elections.

The Washington South ward which used to be represented by disgraced Labour Party councillor Paul Middleton is among those being contested on Thursday, May 2.

The seat was declared vacant in January after he admitted attempting to sexually communicate with a child, who was later revealed to have been an undercover police officer.

Coun Robert Oliver, leader of the city’s Tory opposition, said the initiative was intended to improve public trust in Sunderland City Council.

He said: “We’re saying we need more openness and transparency. If everyone had a check that would prove they didn’t have a conviction. It would be the Conservative councillors leading by example.

“We couldn’t force people to have one, but it would be our policy to do so and we would then have to go to the whips of each political group and see whether they would enforce it or not.

“We would, and we would say to any candidate they have to have that. If other groups didn’t, that would be up to them.”

Coun Oliver claimed current regulations covering council candidates with recent convictions were ‘just something you sign’ and simply accepted ‘on trust’.

According to the manifesto proposal, the council’s chief executive would be asked to ‘explore the means by which this can be introduced’.

A motion on criminal record checks was also approved by the full city council in March after being put forward by the opposition party.

Other proposals in the document include:

*Scrapping the city council’s planned move to a new civic centre on the Vaux site – instead the Conservatives have suggested taking £11m from the reported £41m budget for the scheme to fund a new seafront leisure centre and using the remainder to pay for a new council HQ elsewhere

*More free parking in the city centre

*Extend the Metro to Washington

*Bring back weekly bin collections

A further flagship policy would be deep cuts to the ‘council’s gravy train’, with allowances, meals and even the overall number of city councillors in the Tories’ sights.

Coun Oliver added: “Our manifesto is an opportunity to breathe new life into the city. We’ve had a Labour council for 46 years and we feel the city isn’t moving forward fast enough.

“We also feel there isn’t enough transparency and openness. We will be cutting some of the spending, like £50,000 on the Spice Girls, but also things like disclosure and barring service checks for all councillors so residents can feel they’re there for them.”

Visit to read the manifesto in full.

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service