The future of a Teesside council has been left in disarray after its Labour leader and other cabinet members resigned from the party.
Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning, his deputy Sheelagh Clarke, the mayor, cabinet members and other senior councillors resigned this morning.
The move is the latest development in a bitter internal Labour dispute and comes after the councillors were not selected by the party in their seats in May’s council elections.
Ten councillors – including more than half of those on the council’s cabinet – staged a public protest outside the Redcar office of Anna Turley, Labour’s candidate for the Redcar seat in the General Election.
An informal meeting is taking place today in which the group will speak to cabinet members still in the Labour Party, and also approach independents to debate how the council can continue to function.
The most pressing issue is the need to pass a budget before the end of March, which includes a vital decision on whether to raise council tax.
But the Liberal Democrat group on Redcar and Cleveland Council have now confirmed that they will table a motion at next Thursday’s full council meeting calling for Cllr Dunning to stand down as leader.
Speaking at the protest in Redcar, Cllr Dunning said Redcar and Cleveland residents have “nothing to worry about”.
Cllr Norman Pickthall, cabinet member for corporate resources, said: “The direction of travel is that we will agree the budget, with a 0% council tax rise.
“All the work has been done. Other councillors would be foolish to reject it.”
Asked if he thought Labour would again win control of the council in May, Cllr Pickthall said: “I don’t think so. Not if the councillor who wants to become leader succeeds.”
Cllr Dunning said that South Bank councillor Sue Jeffrey wanted to become leader of the council’s Labour group.
The ten councillors who resigned from the party were Steve Goldswain (Eston), Olwyn Peters (Eston), Norman Pickthall (Teesville), Mark Hannon (Kirkleatham), Vic Jeffries (Marske), Brian Briggs (Skelton), Carole Simms (Normanby) and Wendy Wall (Normanby).
Their total membership in the party spans 230 years.
Cllrs Goldswain, Briggs and Pickthall were deselected as Labour councillors in November.
Cllrs Dunning, Clarke, Hannon and Jeffries were deselected at a meeting on Sunday, the culmination of a rift the council leader says exists between the leadership and Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Anna Turley, and councillors Joe Keenan and Dale Quigley, who work in Mr Blenkinsop’s office.
Mr Blenkinsop said earlier this week that “he wasn’t part of the selection process”.
Ms Turley said in a statement today:
“I am sad that the councillors and members who didn’t get selected don’t feel they can continue to be part of the Labour movement without being paid councillors, but the party cannot be held to ransom.
“There were simply other candidates who won their elections and they deserve their opportunity to serve their local communities.”
Ms Turley was out campaigning when the councillors staged their protest at her Milbank Terrace office.
A Labour Party statement said the decision was “disappointing but unsurprising”.
“The selection process in Redcar &; Cleveland has been fair, robust and competitive. The Labour Party expects the highest standards from our councillors and council candidates. These expectations include that a candidate demonstrates a willingness to campaign in their community all year round.
“The selection process is still ongoing but local members have begun to choose a new team of candidates drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including a postman, a steel worker, a cobbler, a barmaid, and a netball coach.”
Cllr Sheelagh Clarke has now called for an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying, and the selection process which saw senior Labour members rejected by their party.
Cllr Peters said she had suffered a nervous breakdown because of bullying – and that she supported the deselected councillors who she said “represented what Labour is all about”.
Cllr Goldswain has also complained about bullying.
Chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, Neil Bendelow, claimed earlier this week that there had been “no complaints” about bullying.
However, Cllr Vic Jeffries said he had made an official complaint around three weeks ago – which had been acknowledged.
Mr Bendelow said: “We had no complaints from those councillors who have spoken about the issue in the press. But we have had a complaint from Cllr Jeffries – the first I have ever had to deal with – and it will be dealt with by Labour Party process.”
Speaking after ripping up his 30-year Labour Party membership this morning, former mayor Cllr Jeffries said: “It is a very, very sad day.
“I am weighing my options up. I am a socialist and I believe in fairness, transparency and truth.”
Cllr Brian Briggs said: “I used to help my father with party business when I was a boy. I am Labour through and through. It is with a very heavy heart that I resign my membership.”
Independent mayoral candidate for Middlesbrough Len Junier, and fellow Middlesbrough councillors Pervaz Khan, John McPartland and Derek Loughborough supported their Redcar and Cleveland counterparts at the protest.
All but Cllr Loughborough were deselected by Middlesbrough Labour Group last year.
Cllr Junier said: “I think that this shows that party politics on Teesside is in terminal decline.
“It is the rise of the Independents. I hope we see a repeat across Teesside.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 04 Feb 2015
Placard waving parents have failed in their bid to persuade Northumberland County Council to scrap free transport for youngsters over 16.
They were out in force at the extraordinary meeting of Northumberland County Council on Friday, but the Labour group defeated the bid for a rethink by 34 votes to 30.
Leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “Having forced Labour to hold a council meeting it is disappointing that there was no mood from them for any form of compromise.”
He said it was from the comments from the worried parents and their children attending the meeting that transport arrangements for the new term starting in September were in a state of chaos.
He also said it was regrettable the minority Labour group had won the support of independent councillors to push through the proposal.
Labour leader of the council Coun. Grant Davey said: “We’ve listened carefully to what the public have had to say, not just today but throughout the consultation period, but the bottom line is we have to balance our budget.”
Source – Hexham Courant, 16 July 2014
Hartlepool councillors are poised to reject the chance of a controversial personal cash boost.
A review carried out by the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) has recommended that Hartlepool councillors should have their basic allowances increased by £250 from £5,767 to £6,017, with further annual increases of £250 in April 2014 and April 2015.
The move sparked anger and calls have been made for the increase to be flatly refused in light of pay freezes which are in place elsewhere in the public sector.
The Hartlepool Mail attempted to contact each of the 33 councillors to ask how they planned to vote ahead of the full council meeting, which takes place at 7pm tomorrow.
Shortly after news of Mail’s survey leaked out, the ruling Labour group moved quickly to issue a statement saying all of its 19 members would vote against the proposal.
The statement from Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher read: “Hartlepool Labour Group will always support our staff at the council as they are the cornerstone of our success. This being the case we shall be reaffirming the principle of our resolution last year (April 11) whereby elected members shall only receive an increase in their basic allowance in-line with that awarded to our staff, as and when their increase is confirmed by Government.
“The basic allowance is paid to fulfil the duties associated with the role of elected members. The Labour Group has accepted our full responsibility and would therefore suggest all opposition councillors fulfil their responsibilities too and fill the vacant positions on committees in line with their allocation rather than avoiding their responsibilities.”
Conservative leader Ray Martin-Wells also said he would register a ‘no’ vote, as did his party colleague Brenda Loynes, while Putting Hartlepool First leader Keith Dawkins and fellow members Geoff Lilley and Kelly Atkinson all said they would also vote against a rise.
PHF member David Riddle, who wrote to all councillors asking them to reject the plan, was not available for comment though has previously made it public knowledge that he is against the move.
UKIP representative George Springer said he was not prepared to tell the Mail how he planned to vote ahead of the meeting, while the council’s other UKIP councillor, Tom Hird, said he planned to abstain.
Independent councillors Jonathan Brash, Pamela Hargreaves and Paul Thompson are all opposed to any pay hike and have pledged to vote against it, though John Lauderdale opted not to make his intentions public knowledge until he is asked for his vote at the meeting.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 02 July 2014
Stockton councillors have been accused of “lining their own pockets” after voting not to cut special allowances that would have saved the authority around £26,000 a year.
But the Labour leader of the authority Councillor Bob Cook defended the decision to keep the £3,350 allowance paid to committee vice-chairs – saying they had an important role within the council.
An independent panel which looks into councillors’ allowances had proposed, among other recommendations, the scrapping of the vice chair’s allowance.
The special responsibility allowance (SRA) of £3,350 is paid to vice chairs on top of the basic councillor’s allowance of £9,300.
But at this week’s full council meeting Cllr Cook put forward a motion with the Labour group to keep the vice chair allowance.
A Conservative move to defer a decision to give time for councillors to discuss the motion properly was defeated by a combined vote of Labour and Ingleby Barwick Independents.
UKIP, Lib Dem and Billingham Independent councillors proposed the scrapping of the vice chair SRA, but that was also defeated.
Maureen Rigg, Lib Dem councillor for Eaglescliffe, said: “The excuse given by one Labour speaker after another was that we needed to get on with the job of saving money.
“Not one of them could explain how paying a group of people over £26k per year saved money.”
James Wharton, the Conservative MP for Stockton South, accused the ruling Labour group of “lining their own pockets” at a time when the council has had to reduce its expenditure significantly, leading to redundancies and cuts in services.
“The ruling Labour group in Stockton Council is running a £7.5m surplus, is increasing residents’ council tax yet again and complains about having to make difficult decisions cutting back services,” he said.
“Most residents will be absolutely disgusted to hear this decision.”
But Cllr Bob Cook defended the motion, saying if you were going to have vice chairs then they should get extra responsibility payment.
“Along with the chair of a committee they work as a team,” he said.
“If the chair can’t be at the meeting you have the vice-chair to cover.”
He said councillors took another step towards achieving the authority’s pledge to reduce members’ allowances by 15% by April 2015 at the meeting, agreeing to freeze the basic allowance and reduce all SRAs from 2015/16.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette 02 May 2014
A Labour councillor has been suspended after she joined protesters opposing council cuts.
Councillor Rosalind Copeland (Southwick) was hit with a three-month suspension by Sunderland’s Labour Group for going against the orders of party whips.
The ban means she will not be able to take part in the group’s meetings or sit with Labour members at full council meetings.
Members voted to take action against Coun Copeland at a party meeting on Monday.
It appears the row was ignited after the grandmother-of-two joined placard-carrying protestors in the city centre, ahead of an annual budget-setting meeting last month.
A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors before the meeting, during which £35million of cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.
Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service they said will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets.
Coun Copeland attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting and supported the demonstrators.
Pointing out that she was not there to criticise the council, but to defend what it is legally bound to do in the face of Government cuts, she said: “I am here to defend my council and the decision my council will have to make – the agony we are facing as councillors.
“As council members, we are having to do things we don’t want to do. The Coalition is pilfering the working class. It is not this Labour group at fault.”
Supporters have given their backing to the 65-year-old, who was elected in May 2008.
Anti-cuts protestor Gary Duncan set up the online petition and a Facebook page calling for the suspension to be lifted.
He said: “As a Sunderland resident and Labour voter who actively opposes cuts to public services, I am absolutely disgusted by this suspension.
“How can the leaders of Sunderland’s Labour Party justify punishing one of their own councillors for fighting the cuts?”
> Labour voter ? So he’s not the same Gary Duncan who, if I remember correctly, stood as a Respect candidate then ?
Though he probably is the Gary Duncan who last year got into bother with Sunderland Peoples Assembly (presumably a different entity from North East People’s Assembly)
A Labour Party insider, who did not want to be named, said: “Coun Copeland signed a letter in 2011 to say she would not talk to the press, unless it was ‘on message’.
“But if you started slinging people out of the Labour Party for opposing Tory cuts, there would be nobody left. She is a good local councillor.”
A spokesman for Labour Party North confirmed Coun Copeland had been suspended from the Labour Group for three months for going against the party whip.
Council leader Paul Watson said: “There is an internal Labour Group enquiry live at the present moment. It is against party rules to discuss the situation until we have an outcome and the process is fully concluded.”
Source – Sunderland Echo 12 April 2014