Council leader under attack

AN UNDER-FIRE council boss launched a blistering attack on “conniving” members of his own party after his leadership was branded “weak” by a powerful local government watchdog.

AN UNDER-FIRE council boss launched a blistering attack on “conniving” members of his own party after his leadership was branded “weak” by a powerful local government watchdog.

Coun Albert Nugent, leader of Durham County Council, also lashed out against “lies, lies, lies” put out by his own Labour party colleagues during a stormy Cabinet meeting yesterday.

His comments followed criticism in the annual audit from the Audit Commission that “there are significant weaknesses in the political leadership provided by the Leader of Council and the Cabinet.” The report added: “There is limited visible political leadership in key priority areas such as economic development. Politicians are not consistently challenging in holding officers to account.”

Coun Nugent, 64, a retired miner from Seaham, who ousted former leader Ken Manton two years ago after leading a backbench revolt against the planned closure of nine care homes for the elderly, used the last Cabinet meeting before local government elections in two weeks’ time to attack his critics.

He said: “I was criticised by the Liberal Democrats when I fought to keep the care homes open, because they said the council would be £15m in debt. But we kept the precept increase to 2.9% for two years running.

“I have come into County Hall on many mornings to find my own party colleagues conniving with the opposition to get rid of me. I have survived votes of no confidence from my own party members and I have had to listen to lies, lies, lies being told about me. I haven’t relished the leadership, but by God, I have worked hard at it.”

Coun Nugent, who pointed out that the Audit Commission gave the local authority a creditable four star rating overall, also hit out at Independent councillor John Shuttleworth, who described the way the authority was being run as “like a fish and chip shop”.

He said: “This is a Rolls Royce authority, not a Ford. John Shuttleworth would do well to remember that the previous leadership wanted to close the residential home in his ward in Stanhope. It would have been run by the private sector now had I not intervened. It’s strange how quickly people forget.”

The Audit Commissioner’s recommended that the council should “work within the County Durham Economic Partnership to identify a clear strategic leadership role for the realisation of economic ambition, set challenging targets for job creation, engage more effectively with the local community and develop a robust action plan.”

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