Suspension of democratic accountability at Newcastle City Council meeting sparks alarm - "We are not a one Party state" says Liberal Democrats Leader

Cllr Nick CottThe Liberal Democrats Opposition on Newcastle City Council is alarmed at Labour's attempt to severely restrict the normal business of Council by stretching the use of established procedures to extraordinary lengths.

Liberal Democrat Councillors have previously welcomed the return of Council meetings, bringing forward timely motions addressing the need for more help for young people to get skills training, support for the Black Lives Matter movement, calls for action on mental health, and the crisis in Hong Kong. However, the public agenda states an intention, furiously opposed at Constitutional Committee by Liberal Democrat representatives, to force a vote to reject all but a narrow set of agenda items led by Cabinet members.

Cllr Nick Cott, the new Liberal Democrats Group Leader, said: "We recognise that it was necessary to postpone scheduled meetings at the height of lockdown. However, the suspension of democratic processes should always be a decision of last resort. Backbench members are having their voices stifled, as the Cabinet Leadership attempts to ensure that only their chosen business can be conducted. This is not democratic. We are not a one party state. If MPs can maintain a full programme of business at Westminster, Councillors can do it here in Newcastle."

Cllr Anita Lower, outgoing Leader of the Opposition, said: "We are grateful to officers for ensuring the Council can function remotely. Why are we wasting this effort by restricting backbenchers- of all political persuasions- from engaging in their democratic responsibilities? The Labour Administration should not be socially distancing themselves from proper scrutiny."

The Lib Dem Opposition are bringing forward the following motions:

    1. Black Lives Matter - welcoming moves to address long-standing structural race inequalities in the UK;
    2. Mental Health - highlighting the enormous mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis;
    3. Hong Kong Refugees - highlighting Newcastle's role as a City of Sanctuary in the context of the current crisis in Hong Kong;
    4. Apprenticeships and Skills Training - calling for increased investment in apprenticeship and skills training, in collaboration with regional bodies

Newcastle City Council has not had a full meeting of all Councillors since 4th March 2020. The Council's Constitutional Committee discussed a proposal to restrict business by suspension of standing orders on 1st June 2020.

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