Tagged: Paul Watson

Sunderland has fewer businesses per head of population than any other city in the UK

CIVIC bosses remain confident Sunderland has a bright economic future, despite a new report which says it has fewer businesses per head of population than any other city in the UK.

The Centre for Cities’ 2015 Cities Outlook report ranks Sunderland as the lowest out of 64 for ‘business stock’, with 186 businesses per 10,000 people.

The city is also second bottom for new business start-ups and patents registered.

It is not all bad news, however, with the city ranked fourth best in the country for manufacturing jobs and 22 out of 60 for the number of people with 5A*-C GCSEs including Maths & English.

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson said:

“This Centre for Cities report offers a useful comparison which confirms that we are making good progress on a number of fronts, but that we face some of the same challenges that we have been aware of for a long time.

“What lies behind the figures is perhaps most interesting for Sunderland residents.

“Manufacturing, in particular, has undergone a period of rapid growth within the city – with Nissan having increased output by 50 per cent in the last two years.

“And we’ve seen a spate of private investment in the city centre complemented by our own investment in new public space such as the Keel Square, which is nearing completion.

“With these behind us, Sunderland is on course for further growth in jobs and prosperity in the years to come.”

> Growth of 16 hour/week and zero contract jobs, if the vacancies are anything to go by. Whether that’s something to celebrate is a matter of opinion.

Today’s report highlights the growing gulf between the south of England and the rest of Britain.

It shows that for every 12 net new jobs created between 2004 and 2013 in cities in the south, only one was created in cities throughout the rest of Great Britain.

And with an election just months away, it calls on all parties to ensure their visions for growing cities are based on significant devolution of both fiscal and structural power, providing incentives to support economic growth, and giving greater flexibility to ensure money can be spent where it is most needed.

Cities Outlook is the annual health-check of the economic performance of the United Kingdom’s 64 largest cities.

This year’s report maps the fortunes of cities over a decade of economic boom and bust, during which three major parties have held power.

It shows national growth between 2004 and 2013 was largely driven by only a handful of cities – mainly located in the South – which have seen their populations boom, their number of businesses grow, and thousands of new jobs created while migration of young and skilled workers, a lack of business growth, and falling employment opportunities have other cities’ economies to contract.

The report says successive Governments’ efforts have failed to rebalance the national economy and warns even the best-performing cities in the south are now facing problems, especially from rocketing house prices.

Five months out from the election, this report makes the strongest economic case yet for the next Government to step up to the challenge of investing in the long-term success of our cities, and build a brighter future in which more people and places can contribute to, and share in, prosperity and growth,” said Centre for Cities acting chief executive Andrew Carter.

“The stark picture the report paints of the enormous gap in the fortunes of UK cities over 10 years underlines why a ‘steady as she goes’ approach must be scrapped.

“We must move from thinking that bundling up new funding streams with bureaucratic delays, or simply tinkering around the edges with well-intentioned announcements, will be enough to reverse trends that are becoming increasingly entrenched.

“Cities need long-term funding and strategic planning, and policies that go to the heart of addressing the key drivers of economic growth – including transport, planning, skills and housing.

“This report throws down the gauntlet for all parties to turn their recent interest and pledges around cities and devolution into a clear plan to grow jobs and businesses, and improve quality of life throughout the United Kingdom.”

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  19 Jan 2015

Former Sunderland city councillor ordered to pay back part of £26k expenses bill

Former  councillor Neville Padgett has been told to pay back some of his expenses after he claimed £26,000 in just over two years.

Mr Padgett resigned from his post last month citing health reasons after being re-elected in May in a landslide victory.

It was previously reported how Mr Padgett claimed £11,000 2012/13 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors. He claimed another £15,000 the following year on top of his £8,369 basic allowance.

The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. He justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.

It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting held behind closed doors, of the council’s standards board, shortly before his resignation.

Council bosses have always insisted councillor’s claims are regularly monitored and reviewed “in line with national guidelines”.

But at a full council meeting last week, leader Paul Watson admitted the authority has been investigating Mr Padgett.

He said: “It is a delicate operation to decide what we think he should pay back. We have been looking at it for some time now.”

Tory opposition leader Lee Martin had tabled a question, asking if and how much Mr Padgett will be asked to repay, what category of claims and what time periods these relate to.

Coun Watson said: “Yes, Mr Padgett has been requested to repay an amount of money in respect of his previous expenses.

“The relevant information regarding the amount that is required to be repaid, the nature of these expenses and the period to which they relate will be provided in a report for publication at a future date.”

Back in March, Coun Watson said there was no question as to the legitimacy of Mr Padgett’s expense claims.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of other people on the council who don’t claim their full allowances, so rather than concentrating on someone who seemingly claim what he is entitled to, look at the councillors who don’t put expenses in and pay out of their own pockets,” he said at the time.

But Coun Martin tackled Coun Watson about his earlier statement, asking: “Does the leader now regret telling the press that he was only claiming what he was entitled to.

“Does he regret making that claim when this is more than 1,200 employees of this council earned in that year? Does he regret that now ex-councillor Padgett has been told to repay the money, will he apologise to the city for not keeping a closer watch on him?”

Coun Watson hit back saying: “I don’t regret what I said, my comments were made in good faith at the time under the circumstances.

“I don’t apologise if anyone in here is making a less than honest claim. Padgett may have transgressed, we don’t know whether he has crossed the boundaries, that’s what the process is all about. I believed that he was claiming what he was entitled to. If I thought he hadn’t I wouldn’t have said so.”

A by-election to replace Mr Padgett in the Washington East ward will be held on December 11. Those standing are Alistair Baxter (Ukip), Hilary Johnson (Conservative), Tony Murphy (Green Party), Stephen O’Brien (LibDem), Tony Taylor (Labour).

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  01 Dec 2014

Sunderland councillor quits due to ‘health reasons’ after £26,000 expenses claims

A Sunderland city councillor who claimed more than £26,000 in expenses in two years has resigned.

Labour representative Neville Padgett suddenly stepped down from his Washington East seat just five months after he was re-elected in May.

Earlier this year, there were calls for 68-year-old Mr Padgett to resign when figures showed he was claiming £1,250 per month on top of his annual £8,369 basic allowance – more than he would receive if he were in a minimum wage job.

It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s standards board on Friday, although council bosses would not confirm this .

Council chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement:

“The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Coun Neville Padgett. A notice of vacancy in the Washington East ward will be published in due course.”

Mr Padgett hit the headlines in March when the 2012/13 expenses were published. He was found to have claimed £11,000 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors.

The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. At the time, he justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.

Then figures released in April showed that in 2013/14, he had claimed even more – just over £15,000 – to supplement his basic allowance.

A month later, voters in Washington East re-elected him for another term in a landslide victory. Tory opposition leader Lee Martin, who has led calls for Mr Padgett to step down, has now asked the council to investigate.

Coun Martin said he plans to table a question for the November meeting of the full council in order that any findings of the standards board are made public. He said:

“I have asked for the council to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing. I believe his resignation is linked to his expenses.

“I’m still waiting for the council to confirm that they completed the review I asked for to ensure his expenses were legitimate. It is in the public interest to know it has been done properly.”

Mr Padgett’s former Labour colleague and Washington South councillor Graeme Miller said:

“This is a standards board issue. I don’t know what their report said. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. He has resigned before the end of the process. Whatever happened on Friday is between Neville and the members of the standards board.”

Council leader Paul Watson said Mr Padgett’s resignation letter cited health grounds and that he needed more time to care for his wife.

The electorate returned him with a greater majority and there is no better test than the local community making the verdict,” Coun Watson added.

Dave Smith said:

Concerns were raised earlier this year about re-examining certain councillor expenses claims. These are audited on a risk assessed basis and any issues are raised with individuals in line with the Code of Conduct that all councillors sign.

“Because of the code and its procedures, it would be inappropriate to advise other councillors of an audit conclusion or for the council to make any further comment.”

A spokesman for Labour North said:

“Neville Padgett has not resigned from the Labour Party, but we do understand he has resigned as a councillor on Sunderland City Council.”

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  17 Oct 2014

North-East councils allow meetings to be filmed

Councils  in the region have agreed to allow the public to film their meetings after the Government ordered local authorities to improve access to voters.

A survey by The Northern Echo revealed that councils across the North-East and North Yorkshire have approved the filming of committee meetings.

Members of the public are also usually allowed to post updates on meetings on social networking sites from council chambers.

Earlier this year, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles published a guide for people explaining how they could attend and report on their local council meetings.

The guidance explicitly stated that councils should permit the public to film council meetings.

Despite councils elsewhere in the country still refusing to allow filming, local authorities in this region appear to be complying with the guide.

Several councils have allowed filming for several months while others are currently in the process of changing their procedures to comply with the Government guidance.

Durham County Council agreed in July on a protocol for members of the public wishing to record meetings.

These regulations came into force on August 6.

Although it did not have a specific policy on the issue, Darlington Borough Council said it also allowed its meetings to be filmed.

 Hartlepool Council has allowed filming since January.

Its guidance on the issue states: “The council is committed to being open and transparent in the way it conducts its decision making.

“Filming, recording and photography at council meetings will therefore be allowed subject to certain restrictions and conditions.”

A draft protocol regarding this issue will be considered by Stockton Council’s cabinet on September 4 and by full council on September 17.

Sunderland City Council also allows its meetings to be videoed.

Dozens of meetings open to the public are held every year and the city council has always welcomed people to them,” said leader councillor Paul Watson.

Several councils noted that filming was allowed, but the chair of the meeting must be notified in advance.

Authorities also asked for filming to be done overtly, rather than done in secret, and not in a way that was disruptive.

Source – Northern Echo,  20 Aug 2014

Sunderland expenses row councillor claims another £15,000 in food and mileage

A Sunderland councillor who came under fire for claiming £11,000 of expenses and allowances in one year has come in for fresh criticism – after his claims increased.

 Neville Padgett (Labour) was responsible for a third of all councillor claims in 2012/13, pocketing £11,110 out of the £34,000 received by 75 councillors.

Now figures for the 2013/14 financial year show the Washington East ward representative received £15,074 in expenses – prompting one opposition councillor to call him a “greedy pig”.

> He certainly appears to have his snout wedged firmly in the trough…

The 68-year-old now claims £1,250 per month on top of his annual £8,369 basic allowance – more than he would receive if he were in a minimum wage job.

He previously said the mileage was clocked up by spending one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.

In total, the Labour councillor claimed £8,265 in travel expenses and £6,808 in subsistence claims, for food and refreshments while out of the house.

The latest figures were provided by Sunderland City Council’s payroll and pensions department on the request of Conservative members, under councillors’ privilege. Tory councillor Lee Martin said: “Quite blatantly he is a greedy pig.

“While an increasing number of people are having to use food banks, the council are allowing a councillor to trough £35,000, which is way higher than most MPs.

“He must be the hardest-working, most dedicated councillor. ”

> Coun. Martin is obviously not up to speed with his party’s stance on food banks… but he has a point – Coun. Padgett is evidently a one-man food bank all on his own.

When approached by the Sunderland Echo about the claims, Coun Padgett said there was an audit being carried out into how much he has received and, until that was complete, it would be unfair to comment.

He added: “I don’t look at how much it is when I put receipts in. There is a lot of things to discuss at the moment so it’s very difficult to comment.”

Coun Padgett has now claimed £35,535.42 in expenses since being elected in 2010, having claimed £2,930 in 2010/11 and £6,419.06 in 2011/12.

Council leader Paul Watson said he hoped councillors would use common sense when submitting claims. He said: “I think it’s up to the individual councillor. We would expect every councillor to only submit legitimate and fair and proper claims and they are being examined as they are submitted, I understand.

“It falls to each councillor to be answerable to their electorate.

“We expect every councillor to be understanding of the economic situation in the city and would expect them to be as frugal as possible when claiming.”

Independent group leader, Coun Colin Wakefield, said: “It’s a significant increase and clearly going the wrong way, when we are trying to drive costs down. It’s not good enough really.”

A Sunderland City Council spokeswoman confirmed Coun Padgett’s expense and allowance claims were being looked at.

She said: “The city council has received a request from one member to re-examine certain member expenses claims.

“The chief executive has sought and been given assurance that members’ expenses claims are being audited on a risk assessed basis. A scheduled audit of payroll including expenses is currently on-going.

“Any concerns will be addressed through this process.”

Source – Sunderland Echo  23 April 2014

Sunderland Labour councillor suspended for speaking out against cuts

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)

see http://peoplesassemblytyneandwear.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/a-statement-from-sunderland-peoples-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

Sunderland councillor claimed £11,000 in food and mileage expenses

One Sunderland councillor was responsible for a third of all expenses claimed by members last year – supplementing his basic allowance by £900 every month.

Labour backbencher Neville Padgett claimed £11,110 out of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors in 2012/13.

Figures on Sunderland City Council’s website show Coun Padgett’s travel expenses amounted to £7,084 with another £4,026 claimed for subsistence, in addition to the basic £8,369 allowance all councillors are entitled to.

During the year, the Washington East member claimed up to the maximum £28.73 per day in subsistence for a total 274 days, which included two bank holidays.

In contrast, Coun Padgett’s Washington East ward colleague, Coun Fiona Miller claimed just £183.15 in travel expenses, while Coun David Snowdon, who was elected in May 2012, after the start of the financial year, claimed £540 in travel expenses. Neither of them claimed subsistence.

Married father-of-two Coun Padgett, who lives in Houghton, was queried by the council’s payroll department for “several entries for tour of ward” claims.

In a reply via email – seen by the Echo – Coun Padgett, 68, said he tours his ward by car once a week because of “litter problems”.

He wrote: “I cover every street and road throughout the ward. This is because of the increase in litter problems etc. The ward is the largest by area in Sunderland so the most economical way of covering it is by car.”

From March 4, 2012, to February 24, 2013, Coun Padgett completed 52 tours.

Driving his 1,400cc Vauxhall Corsa, he claimed 45p per mile for 47 51-mile trips – a total of £22.95 each time. One trip of 53 miles was also claimed for at that rate, resulting in a claim for £23.85.

The four final claims of that year were for 51-mile trips at 25p per mile – the rate councillors can claim when they have clocked up in excess of 10,000 miles – resulting in claims of £12.75. In total, £1,153.50 of taxpayers’ money was spent on Coun Padgett’s litter tours.

Tory opposition councillor Lee Martin has now formally asked the council to look into the legitimacy of the claims.

“He is a back bench councillor and he appears to have five appointments a day, which makes him eligible to claim subsistence allowance,” Coun Martin said.

“He does it nearly every day, including Saturdays. He must be the most dedicated member of this council. He has claimed just over £4,000 in subsistence. He must never have been to the supermarket all year, and is claiming travel expenses to look for litter.

“He needs to be brought to account. I’m the first person to say councillors shouldn’t be out of pocket for what they do, but he claims nearly £1,000 a month. If all councillors claimed that amount the total bill would be £883,000. It’s just not acceptable.”

Council leader Paul Watson, who claimed just £26 in travel expenses and £309 subsistence, said: “I’m probably not one to judge their expenses, but I can say that every claim that is put in for expenses goes through the system and is checked by officers.

“I understand that there has been no questions as to the legitimacy of the expenses. At the end of the day, there are a lot of other people on the council who don’t claim their full allowances, so rather than concentrating on someone who seemingly claim what he is entitled to, look at the councillors who don’t put expenses in and pay out of their own pockets.”

A statement from Sunderland City Council said: “The city council has received a request from one member to re-examine certain member expenses claims.

“The chief executive has sought and been given assurance that members’ expenses claims are being audited on a risk assessed basis. Any concerns will be addressed through this process.”

Source – Sunderland Echo, 13 March 2014

Sunderland – £35million budget cuts

PROTESTERS who gathered outside Sunderland civic centre have said £35million budget cuts will be the final nail in the coffin for city residents.

A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors ahead of the annual budget-setting meeting yesterday, during which the multimillion pound cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.

Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service, which they say will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets.

Among the protesters was Sunderland University chaplain Chris Howson.

He said: “The coffins represents the killing off of council services. We wanted to make a point as the councillors went in.”

Despite huge division in political opinion, all 53 councillors who attended the meeting – just over two- thirds of the 74 current elected members – voted through the motion presented by council leader Paul Watson.

One of them, Southwick Councillor Rosalind Copeland, attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting, supporting 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, Coun Copeland 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.”

> The revolution will not begin in Sunderland…official.

To streamline finances, the council is focusing on three approaches; recommissioning services, reprioritising spending and exploring alternative ways to deliver services.

This includes reviewing car-parking charges, pest control and burial and cremation fees as well as reducing the authority’s fleet of bin wagons and the introduction of a four-day working week for recycling staff.

At the meeting, Coun Watson said: “Two years ago I said we were experiencing the most difficult economic period in living memory. This position has not changed. Even more pressure has been put on the council, with further reductions in public sector finances.”

He added: “The council has risen to the challenge and has managed these considerable risks.”

Opposition leader Robert Oliver agreed that the budget was “realistic”, and that while the Tory group welcomed the council tax freeze for a fourth consecutive year, the Labour administration should not complain about cuts, which he claimed had arisen as a result of lost revenue.

He said: “The workforce has been reduced and services have improved so it’s a case of go figure.

> And Sunderland is the 5th worst place in the UK to find work. Go figure that. Reducing the workforce might save money, but it also means more people unemployed. More chasing a pitiful few jobs. More coming under the frankly vile regime in the Jobcentres.

“The leader of the council has given us a slightly two-faced speech. You can’t complain about cuts which could have been avoided if there had been a council tax increase.”

On top of the £35million slashed from the coming year’s budget, the authority will have to find an identical amount to cut the following year.

Coun Watson says some of the savings are being mitigated by “hundreds of milllions” worth of capital investment planned until 2018.

Source – Sunderland Echo,  06 March 2014

New North East super council is given the green light

A new super council will be formed on April 1, allowing the North East to compete for millions of pounds in Government funding.

After months of internal rows and territorial battles, the North East’s seven council leaders have secured Government backing to form a Combined Authority.

The move means, for example, that decisions over major transport and jobs investment in Northumberland or Newcastle must be made only after the views of the other council leaders have been taken into account.

There will be no changes to local councils, with voters still electing their local councillor and the same group collecting bins and looking after those in care.

> But we won’t get to vote in matters directly involving this super council ?

But behind the scenes the North East Combined Authority will be seen as the lead voice for the region in Whitehall.

The seven leaders, and their chief executives, will share decision making over skills, transport and investment, have the chance to secure control over any devolved Government budgets and a say in how the region bids for the £2bn Government Growth Fund.

> And no doubt they’ll also share an extra wad in their pay packets.

Cities minister Mr Clark has told MPs he thinks it is “a huge advance in the North East” and called for council leaders, MPs and other jobs groups to come together to formally discuss with him the next steps for the region.

> And will we – those most affected by any decisions – have any input ?

Former regional minister Nick Brown recently secured a series of regular meetings with the cities minister amid concerns the region’s case was not being heard in parliament.

Last night he told The Journal: “If we want access to the money we have to comply with the Government’s preferred structures, and it is very important that members of parliament are involved and can represent their constituents.”

The combined authority sees Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council and Sunderland City Council form a legally binding structure with the power to borrow cash and the responsibility to share risk.

Simon Henig, the Durham council leader set to chair the combined authority, said: “Working together is the best way to promote jobs and growth and to secure devolution of funding, powers and responsibilities from Government.

“We share ambitious plans for the future of our area and we are determined to work together to deliver them.

“We are therefore delighted to receive today’s news from Cabinet Office and look forward to the necessary formalities being progressed so that we can launch on April 1 this year. This is an important and exciting moment in our history and we are ready now to deliver on our ambitious plans.”

Hopes of forming a combined authority had appeared slim earlier this year when  Sunderland Council had halted the process amid concerns that Newcastle would hold too much influence.

Ministers, civil servants and council officials put pressure on Sunderland to drop its objections, but it was only once leader Paul Watson secured a stronger negotiating hand on the leaders’ board that it could go ahead.

There were then further delays when Sunderland decided to hold out for a multi-million pound investment package from the Government for Wearside before going ahead.

This Sunderland City Deal, set to see some £50m spent on a new business park based around Nissan, is now in the final stage of negotiations.

> So it’s all decided, signed, sealed and delivered. You had no input, it doesn’t appear you’ll ever get the chance for meaningful input… but then, this is  all about the really important people, like councillors and businessmen.  Business as usual, in fact.

Source – Newcastle Journal,  06 March 2014

Labour councillor quits Sunderland City Council after benefit fraud conviction

Sunderland councillor Lisa Smiles, who was convicted of conning the local authority out of £2,000 after she failed to declare wages and her councillor’s allowance when claiming housing benefit., has resigned from both the Labour Party and the city council.

She admitted receiving £2,318 in payments she was not entitled to over a period of 12 months and was fined £150 when she appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.

The departure  leaves a vacancy in her former ward of St Anne’s , however the council was unable to give details of if and when a by-election would be held.

A spokesman for the council said: “The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Lisa Smiles.”

A Labour North spokesman said: “Councillor Lisa Smiles was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2013 following her court appearance.

“She remained on suspension pending an internal investigation into her conduct. She has now resigned from the Labour Party and Sunderland Labour Group.”

The Tories, naturally tried to spin things to their own advantage – Tory councillor Lee Martin submitted a written question to council leader Paul Watson, asking whether he thought the “overwhelming majority” of people on benefits are in genuine need and whether cheats should be punished.

The implication being of course that anyone claiming benefits must be a bit dodgy on the grounds that the occasional person defrauds the system, but on that basis you might counter that the “overwhelming majority” of councillors probably fiddle their expenses, because one or two have been caught red-handed ( wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent as opposed to the the percentage of expenses fiddled by vcarious politicians ?).

Coun Watson said: “Benefits are there to support those in need,” adding that “abusing that system is diabolical and should be punished”.

He then quoted a section of CS Lewis’ theories on crime and punishment, then referred to “the self-righted retribution that some Tories would advocate.”

Coun Watson said that punishment should be done to deter and lead by example, not to exact revenge, adding that to do so would be “psychologically sick”.

Referring to Lisa Smiles, Coun Martin said there seemed to be “one rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” His comment was drowned out by protests from Labour councillors.

“One rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” Now that’s a dangerous game for a Tory to play ! Still, when your possee of councillors is so, er, compact, that they meet in a phone box, I guess there’s nothing to lose by living dangerously 😉

Source – Sunderland Echo  04 Feb 2014