CLAIMS that opposition politicians failed to put the leader of South Tyneside Council under the spotlight at a question-and-answer session have sparked a political row.
Labour’s Coun Iain Malcolm was questioned by members of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee yesterday.
It was a chance to find out at first hand all about his vision for the future of the borough.
However, only Labour Party members on the committee were there to ask questions – with no one from opposition parties present.
Coun John McCabe, Labour for Hebburn South and his party’s chief whip, said opposition members had received invitations to the gathering.
He claimed their “no-show” represented a “missed opportunity”.
That was countered by opposition representatives who said no such invitations had been sent.
Coun McCabe said: “The opposition was fully consulted and invited and yet no one was present.
“It was a real opportunity to go along and scrutinise the leader and put him under the spotlight.
“We don’t always get it right and it’s up to the opposition to highlight where they believe things are going wrong. They failed to do so.”
UKIP’s Steve Harrison, who represents Fellgate and Hedworth, “categorically denied” that either he or his fellow UKIP ward colleague, Coun Linda Hemmer, received any such invitation.
He said: “If we had been invited we would have probably been there, if only to throw something into the mix.
“Myself, Coun Hemmer and Coun Elsom met with the chief executive last Thursday morning to seek answers on several matters, including spending on the ‘Mr Monkey’ legal case.
“The three of us have also been attending budget meetings. We would have not missed that opportunity if we’d been informed. It seems Democratic Services were asked to issue invites – but neither Linda or myself were on that list.”
Conservative Jeff Milburn, for the Cleadon and East Boldon ward, also denied receiving an invitation.
He added: “I didn’t see an invite. We get bombarded with e-mails all the time as councillors, but I can’t recall seeing that.”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “The Council’s Overview and Scrutiny is an open meeting that can be attended by anybody, including members of the opposition parties.
“Individual invitations were issued to the leaders of the opposing groups, but the meeting was also widely advertised on the council’s website and in the local media.”