Council calls meeting on back of ministerial criticism

Northumberland County Council has agreed to replace a cancelled meeting, after minister Eric Pickles urged leaders to "stop hiding"

Hexham MP Guy Opperman
Hexham MP Guy Opperman

Leaders at a North council have agreed to replace a cancelled meeting, a day after being urged to “stop hiding” by a Government minister.

Northumberland County Council has confirmed it will host an extraordinary meeting, having been widely criticised over its cancellation of a meeting at which parents were to protest over the recent reintroduction of transport charges for students.

The latest critic of the cancellation was Cabinet minister Eric Pickles, who in the House of Commons said the authority “can run but cannot hide from the electorate.”

The Labour-run council announced last month it was cancelling the full meeting which had been scheduled to take place today, citing a lack of business.

The decision angered those parents who had planned to stage a protest at the meeting following the council’s decision to reinstate transport charges for students in post 16 education, as well as political opponents.

The authority’s Conservative group tabled a request for an extraordinary meeting to be held in place of that cancelled, signed by 11 councillors - more than the five needed under the authority’s constitution to trigger such an event.

Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman raised the cancellation with Mr Pickles, Secretary of State for communities and local government, in the house on Monday.

He said: “Not only has Labour-run Northumberland County Council not frozen its council tax; it has cancelled its monthly full council meetings on the premise of saving money.

“We know that it is to avoid protest about the teenage transport tax and the lack of a local plan. Does the Secretary of State agree that democracy, debate and scrutiny are key pillars of a council that should not be scrapped?”

The minister replied: “I think those Labour councillors will find that they can run but cannot hide from the electorate. Part of the process of being a local councillor is being accountable to the electorate.

“They should just stop hiding and face the facts.”

The council yesterday confirmed it is to grant the request for the extraordinary meeting, with this to happen at 9.30am on July 11.

Labour group leader Grant Davey
Labour group leader Grant Davey
 

Labour leaders meanwhile hit back at their Tory critics.

Grant Davey, leader of the council and the Labour group, said: “It’s a bit rich for the Tories to cry foul over a cancelled meeting where there was no business to transact.

“What Mr Pickles and Mr Opperman didn’t say was that parliament was closed for an extra 19 days in May because the ‘Government had run out of business to debate.’

“So it seems to be okay to close the mother of all parliaments but not cancel a council meeting?

“The extraordinary council meeting could end up costing the council tax payers over £40,000 which is a very expensive way to play gesture politics after their own Government has raided Northumberland’s budget to the tune of £130m.

“It’s cynical, hypocritical and it goes to show that local Tories would rather spend than save money.”

Tories will table a motion to the extraordinary meeting calling on the council to urge its policy board to rethink the transport charges.

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