New Sunderland City Council leader set to be voted in after local elections

Sunderland Civic Centre, where this evening's council meeting will he held.
Sunderland Civic Centre, where this evening's council meeting will he held.

Sunderland's Labour Party has explained why the position of council leader remains vacant months after the death of its chief.

Councillor Paul Watson, who had been a Pallion ward member since 1997, died in November aged 63 following a diagnosis of cancer.

Deputy leader of Sunderland City Council Haryr Trueman.

Deputy leader of Sunderland City Council Haryr Trueman.

He had been leader since 2008 and had another year to serve on his four-year term.

The party has now explained how a new leader will be elected following on from the local election, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 3, as per party rules.

Members will gather for their annual meeting the Saturday afterwards to elect a new leader and deputy leader, who will then chose their cabinet.

In the meantime, Councillor Harry Trueman, the council's deputy leader, will remain in the role of leader.

Stephen O'Brien, deputy leader of Sunderland's Liberal Democrat opposition and councillor for Grindon and Thorney Close.

Stephen O'Brien, deputy leader of Sunderland's Liberal Democrat opposition and councillor for Grindon and Thorney Close.

He said: "First of all, the role of a deputy leader is to deputise for the leader as appropriate.

"I think there was a huge amount of respect for Paul and there is a process and we will properly keep to that."

He added making a decision about the leading roles and any cabinet changes is left until after the local elections so that those who will be in place in the time to come will be available to fill the positions.

A by-election has been called to fill the ward member seat left vacant by Councillor Watson's death, with voters to go to the polls in the Pallion Ward next Thursday.

Opposition councillors have expressed concern over the continuing lack of leader to rule over Sunderland City Council's ruling Labour group.

Liberal Democrats on Wearside have say they are shocked because the party is yet to nominate anyone to become the new leader of the authority.

The post has been vacant since the death of former Council Leader Paul Watson late last year.

The Lib Dems expected someone would be proposed at tonight's full meeting of all 75 city councillors which takes place at 6pm in the council chamber of Sunderland Civic Centre.

Now one of its members has suggested someone else should be given a chance to run the council instead.

Stephen O'Brien, deputy leader of Sunderland's Liberal Democrat opposition and councillor for Grindon and Thorney Close, said: "With such delays in appointing anyone it seems like no one in the Labour group wants to take the top job at the council.

"And who can blame them? After all the council is lurching from crisis to crisis.

"Sunderland's Children's Services is still failing our must vulnerable and the council's cosying up to Carillion has blown up in their face - all whilst basic services like street cleaning, bin collections and libraries are axed unnecessarily.

"These are serious issues facing our city. If the ruling Labour group doesn't have the stomach to take on the job then the Liberal Democrats are ready, willing and able to give this city the competent leadership it desperately needs."