THE leader of the opposition on South Tyneside Council has called for his political allies to boycott a budget meeting next month on the grounds it will be a “farce”.
Members of the full council will be asked to endorse £22m of budget cuts on Thursday, February 26, as the Labour-run authority attempts to balance its books – and protect front-line services.
But one person who won’t be there is Coun George Elsom, the official leader of the council’s opposition.
The independent Cleadon Park ward member claims that the views of the opposition are routinely ignored by the ruling Labour group.
And he has suggested to the three opposition members with whom he shares a political alliance – UKIP councillors Norman Dennis and Linda Hemmer and independent Lee Hughes, that they don’t show up either to give the meeting “legitimacy”.
He said: “In the last 20 to 30 years the Labour council has never considered nor implemented one single item that the opposition has proposed.
“So why turn up and propose anything at all? We are giving credence to a Labour Party which fails to listen to what the opposition say and simply steamroller through their proposals. Let them get on with it.”
Among Coun Elsom’s raft of cost-saving suggestions are reducing the number of councillors per ward from three to two, a halving of all council special responsibility allowances and no first class travel for councillors or officers.
Coun Hemmer, who represents Fellgate and Hedworth, said she and her fellow opposition members were awaiting a response from the council’s head of finance, Stuart Reid, before formulating a budget response. She said: “We met on Friday and all we got was a budget presentation, there were no facts and figures.
“The three of us need to see a draft budget before we respond. Another meeting is to be arranged at which we will expect more detail.”
Coun John McCabe, the chief whip for South Tyneside Labour group, said: “Even if you don’t agree with the approach taken, you have a duty as an elected representative to give a viewpoint.
“Not turning up proves nothing. Passive resistance is not the way forward.”