NORTH TYNESIDE COUNCIL: It must be fair to all

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Further to your article ‘Bitter row at ‘budget ambush’ ‘, (News Guardian, May 31), and Jean McLaughlin’s letter (June 14), I should be grateful if you would allow me to clarify two issues.

The Conservative group’s objection to the proposed amendment to the council’s constitution was simply an attempt to ensure that budget proposals can be subjected to full and fair scrutiny by all members.

Whilst the Mayor and cabinet issue proposals two weeks before the budget meeting, opposition proposals must be submitted by 4pm the day before. The Mayor and cabinet often make amendments on that day, as they did this year.

It is utterly unreasonable to expect opposition councillors to make their proposals before the Mayor’s final position is known; that is why the Conservatives objected to the change in rules.

How iniquitous of Labour Coun John O’Shea to suggest that “people are trying to ambush us with their budget proposals” and to claim that leaving the constitution in its current state “would be unfair to the cabinet and to the council’s finance officers”.

Surely the democratic process must be fair for all, not skewed in favour of the Mayor and her cabinet?

Secondly, Jean McLaughlin is correct when she highlights the cost to the taxpayer of the council using the services of a top QC. His advice, which was of a general nature and not specific to the Conservative proposals, would not have come cheap, and given that the council already employs its own lawyers and finance officers, is another example of its profligacy.

Of greatest concern is that issues such as these pull into sharp focus a council that appears willing to go to almost any lengths to frustrate broad, balanced, cross-party debate within the chamber.

C Johnston