Hexham MP accuses Northumberland County Council of being "undemocratic" for cancelling meeting

Hexham MP Guy Opperman has called for a minister to investigate the legality of Northumberland County Council's decision to cancel a meeting

Student Rhiann Charters will have to start paying for her bus journey to school in Alnwick
Student Rhiann Charters will have to start paying for her bus journey to school in Alnwick

A Northumberland MP has asked a Government minister to investigate the legality of a council’s decision to cancel a meeting where a protest was planned.

Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman has asked Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into Northumberland County Council’s cancellation of the full meeting planned for July 2.

The move angered parents who had planned to campaign outside at the meeting over the council’s recent decision to bring back transport charges for students in post-16 education.

The Labour-run council, however, has defended the decision, and said a Tory request for an extraordinary meeting in place of the cancelled date will have to be granted.

The authority scrapped the meeting, citing a lack of business, and claiming the move would save £18,000.

Tory opponents accused the administration of seeking to avoid public criticism and tabled a request to have an extraordinary meeting, which eleven councillors signed.

Liberal Democrats have also criticised the move with Berwick parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen vowing to take it up with her party’s ministers.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman
Opperman has expressed his dismay at the decision
 

Mr Opperman has now written to Mr Lewis, saying: “I have been truly shocked by the county council’s attempts to shut down debate and scrutiny of their actions.

“The amount of important decisions the council is taking of late is huge.

“To suggest there is insufficient business to be discussed is at best a head-in-the-sand mentality and at worst it is downright undemocratic.

“It can not be right the council’s administration can hide away in this manner and I would ask you to investigate the legitimacy of what the Labour administration is trying to do.”

Yet council leader Grant Davey hit back, saying: “There is nothing unusual or illegal about cancelling unnecessary meetings.

“We will not have meetings for the sake of meetings. We have completed the work we need to finish before the summer.

“There has been plenty of time for scrutiny and challenge.

“I am genuinely surprised that cancelling a meeting is being described as illegal. All experienced councillors will know that meetings are routinely cancelled where there is no business to be done.”

On the Tory request for an extraordinary meeting, he said: “Arranging meetings with the sole purpose of creating opportunities for haranguing and maligning the legitimate actions of an elected body does nothing to build the reputation of the council as a responsible body taking difficult decisions.”

Yet he conceded the criteria to hold one had been met: “Where five councillors or more demand that a meeting takes place, we will have to hold one.”

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