New independent group promises 'more dignified manner' in holding South Tyneside's leaders to account
Independent councillors have joined forces to form a new opposition group with a pledge to “build confidence” with the public again.
The South Tyneside Independents Group will replace the former ‘independent alliance’ as the main opposition group in the council chamber.
Previously the alliance was led by Fellgate and Hedworth councillor John Robertson and included councillors Keith Roberts (Bede) and Paul Milburn (Primrose).
The new group will include all five independent councillors on the borough council, including Westoe representative Glenn Thompson and newly elected Primrose councillor, David Kennedy.
In an open letter Cllr Glenn Thompson announced he will lead the group, which was agreed following discussions about the May 6 election results.
Out of 20 seats contested, only one independent was elected – compared to four independents taking Labour seats at the 2019 local elections.
A review of the results from the independents looked at the “message from the people of our borough on election night,” how campaigns had been structured and how to “move forward for the benefit of our residents.”
The open letter said independents also agreed several achievements over the past two years, from highlighting issues around transparency and accountability within the ruling Labour group, to campaigning for a full review of the council’s constitution.
Despite this, Cllr Thompson said the manner in which certain issues had been highlighted and presented were “not always acceptable” and in some cases, had “come at a cost.”
“This [review] has been a very humbling process,” he explained.
“Looking forward, we can assure our residents that we are listening and we will react quickly to correct this.
“Ultimately, serving our residents and the substance of our achievements is not enough on its own.
“It must be done in a more civil and dignified manner that builds confidence in us as public servants representing the people of the borough.”
Cllr Thompson added the new independent group was “solely for the formation of an official opposition group in council” and would “not impact the independence of each of its members.”
He added: “In last week’s elections, across South Tyneside we have seen further gains from Labour.
“I look back to 2019, at a time when Labour held 53 of the 54 seats in the borough.
“There is little doubt that democracy works at its most efficient when a significant opposition exists – at that time it did not.
“Today we have an increased opposition. I hope we can build on this and continue doing great work and nurture the positive aspects of rivalry with opposition to bring out the best results for the people we represent.
“We are all passionate about serving the public and we are listening and we will react accordingly and quickly to areas of concern around our approach and presentation.”
Following the latest elections, South Tyneside Council’s overall make-up is 44 Labour councillors, five independents, three Greens, one Conservative and Cllr Jeff Milburn, who is listed as an ‘Independent Conservative.’
New opposition councillors elected after the polls on May 6 include independent David Kennedy, Green Party councillors Sue Stonehouse and Peter Bristow and Conservative councillor Ian Forster.
All 54 elected councillors will meet in person next week at the council’s annual meeting at Temple Park Leisure Centre.
The meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 18 from 6pm.