ELECTED councillors were asked to focus on Carlisle’s big issues and represent their constituents during a fraught meeting of the full city council.

The Mayor of Carlisle and chair of the city council Pamela Birks intervened a number of times at a meeting of city council on January 4.

The meeting saw a lengthy disagreement over equal seats on committees, a proposal for wider parental leave rights and the wearing of face masks also saw tension between Labour and the Conservatives.

Tensions came to a head when Carlisle City Council members were asked to agree the reshuffle of seats on committees and panels.

Deputy leader Gareth Ellis said that the leaders of both the Conservatives and the Labour group called for the reshuffle after a recent by-election in Currock and Upperby Ward.

Leader of the Labour Group Les Tickner said: “Just to correct Cllr Ellis I didn’t request a rebalancing of the seats on the basis of this calculation, I requested a rebalancing based on what they’ve done, certainly since I’ve been a councillor and it goes back to the coalition days, the days of Joe Hendry and Colin Glover when he was leader, which was the Alternative Method.

News and Star: Labour leader: Cllr Les TicknerLabour leader: Cllr Les Tickner

Cllr Tickner said: “Which in my view was customer practice which has just been wiped out by the Conservatives. The method we always adopted was to reflect the proportions of the council on all committees.

“When a political group has a majority on a council they are able to insist they have the majority on each committee this is what the Conservatives have decided to do with their slim majority of one.

“With their majority of one, the proposals here are broadly disproportionate.”

Cllr Tickner said: “This change to customer practice without consultation in practical terms means the Conservatives pick up an extra eight seats, Labour lose two seats, Independents lose one seat and this new political group we now have: the Independent and Liberal Democrat Group have three seats.

“Another concern is the fact that (Independent) Cllr Robert Betton and (Green Party) Cllr Helen Davison have now been removed from all committees other than full council, this change has effectively disenfranchised them from representing their constituents in any committee other than full council.

“In my view this is grossly unfair.”

He said that this is “not in the spirit of a balanced democracy.”

Leader of Carlisle City Council John Mallinson said: “I put it to council that the reason the Labour group didn’t adopt what is actually the correct constitutional position on this matter, is that they didn’t realise it.

“In 2012, we remember on this side, everything possible to be taken from us was taken from us: chairs, vice-chairs, because someone in the Labour Party turned up late one of our members managed to get elected vice-chairman of the audit committee and there was such outcry about it, it was unbelievable.”

Cllr Mallinson said: “So I’m not taking this lecture from Cllr Tickner it just does not bare credence. The rules say we’re quite entitled to a majority on each committee.

"It hasn’t often occurred for some time because there hasn’t been, for the fast tracks of the last few years, there hasn’t been an overall majority on the council from 2003 to 2012 and then again from 2019 to the later end of last year.

The leader said: “It is just the case the case that we’re doing what we’re perfectly entitled to.”

Mayor of Carlisle Pamela Birks intervened as the two leaders disagreed over why a former Labour member crossed the floor and joined the Conservatives.

Cllr Ellis said that the Labour group did not dominate the committee seats when they were in power because of “a case of not realising, rather than some kind of great majesty.”

He said: “This idea that what we had was some normal process in the past, that the Labour group have some great beneficial, some great idea of how things should function, this idea that they allowed us to have as many glorious committee places as possible.

“I’ll tell you what happened when the Labour Party took control of this council in 2012, they removed us of everything.”

Cllr Anne Glendinning said: “Are we done patronising us? Years and years ago when the committee system changed, it was agreed, specifically on scrutiny that it wouldn’t all be chair or vice chair by the ruling party.

“You keep talking about 2012, that was nine years ago, two wrongs don’t make a right. It just smacks to me as though you’re doing it because you can. You’ve left two members, an Independent and a Green without any committee places, the only meeting they can come to is full council.

Cllr Glendinning said: “Never mind us, the Labour Group, the fact that you’ve done that to an Independent and a Green member I think is appalling.”

Cllr Ellis said: “What happened in 2014 was the Labour Party took two of the three chairs. They took the chair and the vice chair in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and in 2018 because they thought they might need the help of the Independents, they gave it to the Indepedent, the third chair.

News and Star: Deputy leader: Cllr Gareth EllisDeputy leader: Cllr Gareth Ellis

“I won’t take lessons and I will not be corrected on the facts when someone doesn’t really have them.”

The deputy leader was asked to apologise to Cllr Glendinning after saying: “I wouldn’t need to patronise if you actually understood what we were talking about.”

Cllr Ellis said: “If madam mayor would like me to apologise I will express my apology to Cllr Glendinning.”

Labour councillor for Sandsfield and Morton West Jeannette Whalen spoke at the end of debate over seats.

Cllr Whalen said: “I just want to say how disappointed I am at the moment with the way that the actual council meeting is being run.

“We had toing and froing about little items which are unimportant about whose been chair of this and whose been chair of that.

“We are here as councillors to represent our residents and I would like us to do that job and continue to do that rather than this back biting from one side to another and I think we need to take that responsibility seriously tonight.”

2022 will see elections and contentious issues discussed such as local government reorganisation as well as a decision on the controversial coal mine in West Cumbria.

Liberal Democrat and deputy leader of Cumbria County Council Peter Thornton said that elected politicians are able to keep debates civil more often than not.

Cllr Thornton said: “In Cumbria I think we’ve always managed to do that.

“There are generally good relationships between the parties and there are friendships across the parties.”