Friday, 20 June 2014

Labour Council "Shut Down" to avoid democracy

Labour Councillors who have came under fire for axing of free transport for students in Northumberland have quite unbelievably cancelled the next meeting of the Full Council to avoid scrutiny.

Labour leaders at Northumberland County Council have been criticised for imposing a £600 "teenage tax" for students in post-16 education. They have now announced the cancellation of their next meeting - at which some parents had planned a protest - citing a lack of business!

Protesters and Northumberland Conservatives have rightly accused the administration of seeking to avoid public criticism. The background is this:

All of Northumberland's 67 Councillors gather once per month to discuss the Council's business and hear from members of the public. However, earlier this month Councillor's received a letter from the Council's Business Manager Cllr Scott Dickinson informing them the meeting would be "cancelled due to insufficient business." See the letter below.

In my four years in this job not much Labour does shocks me anymore, but this attempt to shut down debate and scrutiny of their actions really does take the biscuit.

The amount of important decisions the Council is taking of late is huge including,
  • controversial plans for Hexham's bus station,
  • implementing a £600 teenage tax,
  • and the apparent collapse of our Local Development Plan.
  • To suggest there is insufficient business to be discussed is, at best, a head in the sand mentality and, at worst, it is downright Stalinist - the prevention of all opposition, and debate, by any means necessary.
Given the Council traditionally has a break in August, cancelling the July Full Council Meeting would mean the Council would not meet again until September. Labour might say that such a gap in democratic accountability is very helpful. I disagree. I have made inquiries to see if this is even legal.

Northumberland Conservatives Leader Peter Jackson has submitted an emergency motion calling for an extraordinary meeting of the County Council at the time the original meeting was scheduled. Cllr Jackson
said "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."

You can see below the letter the Labour Administration sent to Councillors and also the Conservatives motion calling for the meeting to go ahead.