Strong criticism over meeting cancellation

The group in charge at County Hall has come under fire for its decision to cancel a full council meeting.

All of the Northumberland authority’s 67 councillors gather at various points during the year to discuss business and any matters raised from members of the public.

However, a letter from the county council’s business manager, Coun Scott Dickinson, was sent out last week informing them that the meeting on Wednesday, July 2 would be cancelled “due to insufficient business”.

Political opponents of the ruling Labour administration claim it is running scared after parents threatened to protest over the decision to impose a £600 charge on children in post-16 education using public transport.

Northumberland Conservatives leader Peter Jackson has asked the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate the legality of the Labour group’s decision.

He has also submitted an emergency motion calling for an extraordinary meeting at the time the original meeting was scheduled, warning that if his request is not granted he would “empty chair” the administration

Coun Jackson said: “I look forward to hearing the Ombudsman’s comments on this pretty disgraceful manoeuvre.

“This is the worst kind of one party state politics Labour in South East Northumberland are used to, but we will not stand for it.

“They must take scrutiny of the decisions they are imposing on our county.”

“My group and I will attend the July meeting regardless and do the job we were elected to do.

“We will be there to listen to the protests of local parents, even if Labour councillors can’t be bothered to turn up and defend their decisions.”

Given the authority traditionally has a break in August, the next scheduled full council meeting is in September.

Morpeth North councillor David Bawn, a Conservative member, was among the councillors who signed the emergency motion.

He said: “Laughably, the official reason that the meeting has been cancelled is a lack of business to discuss. What about post-16 transport? What about the pothole pledge? What about the missing polling cards? What about moving County Hall to Ashington? What about the problems facing our schools?

“Labour councillors may want an extended holiday, but some of us have been elected to represent the interests of our electors and we need a meeting of the county council to legitimately raise their concerns.”

There was also criticism from Northumberland Liberal Democrat leader Jeff Reid, who said: “Cancelling council meetings is subverting the process of democracy.

“Too many decisions are being taken behind closed doors and to cancel a meeting when so many important decisions need to be made is insulting.”

A Labour group spokesman said: “‘The administration took the decision to cancel the July 2 meeting because there was no business to transact. There were no motions nor questions submitted by opposition parties and the decision to end free post-16 transport had already been taken effective from May 31.

“The Conservatives have criticised this decision, yet they haven’t contributed to the consultation on post-16 transport and haven’t answered the question about their plans to scrap free post-16 transport if they had formed an administration in 2013.”