By-election to be put on hold

A COUNCIL seat left vacant by the death of a much-loved South Tyneside Labour councillor is unlikely to be filled until May’s local elections.

Coun Joan Meeks, 68, died at South Tyneside District Hospital on December 27 after a short illness.

She had served the residents of Simonside and Rekendyke in South Shields since 2004 and was returned as representative for the ward with a large majority in 2010.

Now Labour’s local hierarchy has decided not to stage an immediate by-election in the wake of her passing.

Instead, they are to wait until May’s local elections when Coun Meek’s seat will be fought.

No candidate to replace her has yet been selected. In addition to being an act of respect to Coun Meeks, the decision has financial implications.

It costs an estimated £20,000 to stage a by-election – money the cash-strapped local authority can ill-afford to spend at this time.

Coun Iain Malcolm, the Labour leader of South Tyneside Council, said a “double election” was planned in the ward in May, when Labour’s Coun Ed Malcolm is also up for re-election.

He said: “We are into mid-January now and it will be sensible to wait to hold a double election in May. It’s only a few short months and it makes sense from a financial point of view too.”

A by-election could be forced if five members of the ward call for one.

But there seems no appetite among opposition groups to do so.

Coun Steve Harrison is the Independent leader of the official opposition group – made up of Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Real Independent and Progressive representatives.

He said: “It costs £20,000 to £21,000 and it’s not felt that it’s urgent to have an election now.

“We’re happy for a dual poll in May.

“Joan was a very popular councillor who cut across the political divide.”

And Coun Ahmed Khan, of the Independence Alliance, added: “In the current economic climate and as a mark of respect to Joan, there would seem no huge appetite to call an election.”