South Tyneside Council’s only opposition councillor pledges to hold Labour to account

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A newly-elected councillor has pledged to hold council bosses to account after becoming the only opposition member in South Tyneside.

In the borough’s recent round of council elections, Labour took 17 out of 18 seats up for grabs, maintaining their overall 53 seat majority.

Conservative Jeff Milburn regained his former position as a Cleadon and East Boldon ward councillor with 1,601 votes and a majority of 271 over Labour rival Margaret Meling.

While Mr Milburn lost the seat in 2016, this year the ward had the highest turnout in the entire election at 47.6 per cent.

Mr Milburn said the swell of support came from residents blocking a potential 100% Labour result, which would have seen all 54 seats on the council controlled by the party.

Despite Labour’s stronghold, the newly-elected councillor has pledged to speak out on key issues across the council.

“I’m the only opposition member and the independent (Lee Hughes) didn’t stand, he’s gone now, so now it’s really down to myself as the opposition to challenge Labour.

“Basically they can rubber stamp anything they want. They wont, they can’t if I’m in the council because I’ll take forward views of the constituents I represent.

“Views about the roads, the transport system and the fact that building would ruin the village.”

He added that main issues in Cleadon and East Boldon include house building on greenbelt land and “villages being sold up”.

“There’s not enough spaces, not enough room for any more cars and I think that’s one of the main things as well as doing work in local places such as footpaths and bins,” he said.

“All these humdrum things that seem to get left behind, I would listen and get on to it and that’s what I promise my constituents.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to work, we have fought a very hard and long campaign , spoken to a lot of people and done a lot of leafleting.

“It just goes to show that in South Tyneside, there is still a future for the Conservative party”.

South Tyneside Council’s Leader, Iain Malcolm, described the latest election result as a “fantastic achievement”.

“It’s a ringing endorsement of our strategy to transform South Tyneside, regenerate our  town centres, bringing new jobs and investment through the new advanced manufacturing park north of Nissan.

“And of course, protecting public services despite the fact the council is operating with less money because of the cuts imposed by the Tory Government.”

Since 2004, the Labour Party have increased their number of seats from 35 to 53 eliminating Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Independents, UKIP and Progressives over the years.

While the Green Party failed to gain seats – despite contesting all wards – they tripled their support in Beacon and Bents on the previous election with nearly 40 per cent of vote share.

Candidate for the ward David Francis said: “There’s still 53 out of 54 Labour councillors and that just isn’t good for local democracy.

“It means most of the important decisions are made behind closed doors in the Labour group meetings and the full council meetings are just going through the motions.

“That can’t serve the area very well. We’re very optimistic for the future and hoping to build on the success we have had tonight in terms of vote share.

“Next year, we stand a real chance of making a breakthrough”.

Although many wards saw huge vote share and majorities for defending Labour candidates, the overall turnout stood at 33 per cent.

Director of policy and research at the electoral reform society, Jess Garland, said: “There are significant dangers for local democracy when one party holds every seat, or all but a handful of seats, as is the case in South Tyneside.

“Opposition councillors provide vital scrutiny of a council’s decisions and hold the executive to account. 

“The lack of opposition on councils is a problem created by the first-past-the-post voting system used in local elections.

“The system distorts how we vote and can reward parties with a much great proportion of council seats than their proportion of the vote.

“In the South Tyneside elections yesterday, thousands of votes were wasted because of the first-past-the-post system.

“We need a proportional voting system, like the one being used in local elections in Scotland, where seats match votes and every vote counts.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service