THE longest-serving councillor in South Tyneside has been suspended from the Labour Party over claims he did not attend a regional conference.
A meeting of the borough’s Labour Group handed Coun Eddie McAtominey – a ward member for Hebburn South since 1973 – a six-month suspension for breaching the council’s code of conduct.
Coun McAtominey put forward a staunch defence and a second proposal was put forward that no action be taken immediately, but that his council roles should be taken off him after the local elections – but that didn’t happen.A source told the Gazette
The Gazette understands that of the 50 Labour members present at South Shields Town Hall on Monday night – including 44 councillors – 39 voted in a secret ballot in support of a motion to suspend him, with 11 voting against.
The move follows his alleged failure to represent the local authority at a Tyne and Wear Pensions Fund training day in York on Monday, March 3, after travelling to the North Yorkshire city.
Despite his suspension from the Labour Group, Coun McAtominey remains an elected member of South Tyneside Council and can continue to represent his ward constituents.
He is due to stand for re-election in Hebburn South at the local elections on May 7 but cannot represent the Labout Party while suspended – leaving him no access to party support.
He has 14 days to appeal the decision.
Coun McAtominey, who was due to attend the York event in his capacity as chairman of the council’s Pensions Committee, put forward a defence to the charge at the meeting.
A source at the meeting said: “Coun McAtominey put forward a staunch defence and a second proposal was put forward that no action be taken immediately, but that his council roles should be taken off him after the local elections – but that didn’t happen”.
The suspension places the future of the veteran councillor in doubt.
He has the right to appeal the decision to Labour North, which represents the party regionally.
Before that, he will appear before a panel of the Local Government Forum, made up of representatives of the local Labour leadership, trade unions and other bodies, to assess if he could be a party candidate again when his ban is served.
If Coun McAtominey’s appeal fails, Labour will need to put forward an alternative candidate in his place on May 7.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council declined to comment on the Labour Group’s decision but did confirm that Coun McAtominey remains a member of the council.
Wilf Flynn, secretary of Jarrow Constituency Labour Party, was unavailable for comment.
Labour chief whip in South Tyneside, Coun John McCabe, a ward colleague of Coun McAtominey in Hebburn South, also declined to comment on the case and said a directive had been issued at the meeting for no other member of the Labour Group to make public comment on the case.
A major figure on the borough’s political scene for more than four decades, Coun McAtominey, who was unavailable for comment, has also been a driving force behind the ongoing regeneration of Hebburn town centre.
One Labour councillor, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s sad because it could well be the end of a long political career.”
If the six-month ban is upheld, there is nothing to prevent Coun McAtominey standing as a candidate, independent from Labour.
‘Mr Hebburn’ in office for four decades
COUNCILLOR Eddie McAtominey has been one of Hebburn’s most prominent politicians for four decades.
In many regards he took over the mantle of ‘Mr Hebburn’ from the veteran Labour councillor who previously held that informal title – Frank Firth – who left the council in 1998 after losing his Hebburn Quay seat.
Hebburn-born and bred, Coun McAtominey is a former pupil at the town’s St Aloysius RC Boys’ School, which he attended between 1955 and 1961.
A businessman, he ran the printing firm Washington Graphics for many years.
An erudite speaker in the council chamber, he has held several key roles on the council since he was first elected to the Hebburn South ward in 1973.
He is a former lead member for jobs, enterprise and regeneration in the council’s cabinet and was also the authority’s representative on Northumbria Police Authority until he resigned from both those positions in 1998.
As chairman of the Hebburn Regeneration Board, he has been at the heart of the town’s ambitious revamp plans, including the creation of the Hebburn Central community facility.
He is also a member of the council’s human resources committee, appeals panel and housing performance panel.
Additionally, he is a governor at three Hebburn schools – Hebburn Comprehensive, Toner Avenue Primary and St Aloysius Primary Federation School.
Coun McAtominey is a member of the management committee at Clegwell Community Association and is married to fellow Hebburn South Labour councillor Nancy Maxwell.