War of words as Lib Dems storm out of Hull City Council meeting at the Guildhall
OPPOSITION councillors stormed out of Hull City Council yesterday, accusing the ruling Labour group of bully-boy tactics.
Twelve Lib Dem councillors walked out of the Guildhall, throwing the full council meeting into disarray, after being repeatedly silenced by the majority party.
Deputy leader Councillor Mike Ross led the exodus, labelling the actions of Labour councillors a disgrace to politics and a return to the dark days when independent inspectors criticised the Labour group for a bullying culture.
The row was sparked after the Lib Dems had vowed to challenge the Labour administration over controversial policies, including fortnightly bin collections and the recent roadworks that have caused traffic jams.
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The opposition had been attempting to pass a range of motions, including a weekly collection of recycling bins and their condemnation of the handling of the roadworks.
However, when they tried to comment, Labour councillors insisted they had already been debated at the council's scrutiny committee, halting debate.
"Anything we did to move items was constantly shot down," said Cllr Ross, after leading the walk-out.
"If they don't like your opinion, they won't allow you to speak. If they don't like what you've got to say, they dismiss it out of hand and allow no debate.
"It is absolutely shocking and it has demonstrated complete arrogance on behalf of the Labour group."
Cllr Ross said he feared the day's developments signalled a return to less glorious days in the city's political history, with Labour using its 19-strong majority to stifle debate on its policies.
Labour were also accused of employing bully-boy tactics when they held the majority before the Lib Dem group took office in 2006.
"If this is a sign of things to come, it is extremely worrying," Cllr Ross said.
"People remember the bad old days when Labour had nearly all the councillors. They didn't listen and acted like the council was their personal fiefdom – not a place where councillors debate issues of concern to the public.
"Their bullying left Hull as officially the worst council in the country."
He insisted his party, which holds 17 seats on the council, with the Conservatives holding two and the Independents one, would challenge the Labour group's policies, despite yesterday's tactics.
"People in Hull deserve better," he said.
"We're there to stand up for people in Hull and we'll fight Labour's bully-boy tactics every step of the way."
Lib Dem councillors were silenced when key items were raised for debate, including the council's redundancy programme, the future of the city's community crime-fighting fund and the move to fortnightly bin collections.
Cllr Ross has vowed to take the matters back to the council at the first available opportunity.
"The public have put their trust in all of us to serve them and the city correctly but Labour have today repeatedly stopped us providing the kind of service the public deserve," he said.
"Full council is one of the few opportunities to come together and talk about the issues that affect people in the city and for Labour to undermine that opportunity shows a complete lack of respect to not only other politicians, but to the public themselves.
"We will bring all the items that should have been debated back to the council and have another attempt to try to hold a professional and constructive meeting. That is what the public deserve."
Lib Dem councillor Dave McCobb claimed the actions of the Labour councillors had disgraced their party.
"We will not tolerate this type of behaviour when we are trying to debate key issues that affect people across the whole city," he said.
"To simply not allow people to express their opinion is a shameful act."
In a swipe back, Labour condemned the actions of the Lib Dem councillors, accusing them of behaving like "petulant children".
They accused the 12 councillors of shouting at the Lord Mayor, interrupting speakers and refusing to abide by the constitution of the council.
Council leader Steve Brady denied any councillor from the Labour group had been involved in bullying tactics.
"I will not tolerate bullying in any way, shape or form," he said.
"At this important time of getting investment into the city, it is absolutely shameful they are acting in this manner.
"What they are trying to do is discredit the whole local government system by bringing motions to the council that have already been put to scrutiny. They need to grow up and engage in productive meetings."
Labour group secretary Tom McVie said the amount of business the Lib Dem group had placed on the agenda meant it was essential to limit speakers to allow new subjects to be discussed.
"It was obvious from the very beginning they were up to something and throughout the meeting, they behaved atrociously," he said.
"The Labour group was happy to allow three Lib Dem speakers to our one on each motion but that was not good enough for them.
"They need to consider how their actions today reflect on them and how it enables them to represent anyone."
The Lib Dem group has lost 14 members since 2000 and Labour feel their actions are a backlash from this loss.
Cllr Brady said: "When they were in office, they curtailed the debates. Whenever we wanted to have a debate, they called an end to it. They did exactly the same thing as we did today."
The debate on bin collections across the city finally led to Lib Dem councillors to leave the already-heated meeting.
Cllr Brady said: "The breaking point seemed to be a motion alleging a failure to consult over bin collections, which was moved by Cllr Williams and seconded by Cllr Ross.
"The irony of this is that there was a scrutiny meeting on September 28 and at the scrutiny call-in three of them, including Cllr Ross, had fully debated the matter and even congratulated officers over the 'excellent consultation that had taken place'.
"Today, however, they seemed to have forgotten this. It is quite remarkable really and a very sad day for democracy."
Last night, a resolution seemed to be in sight after both Labour and Lib Dem group secretaries welcomed meetings to broker a deal between their parties.