Wakefield Council leader accuses Opposition councillors of playing politics with Covid crisis, in row over Mayor Q&A cancellation

The leader of Wakefield Council has accused Opposition councillors of playing politics with Covid, after they criticised her for cancelling a Q&A session with West Yorkshire's mayor.

By David Spereall
Monday, 10th January 2022, 2:39 pm
Updated Monday, 10th January 2022, 2:40 pm
Coun Jeffery strongly refuted the suggestion Labour was seeking to duck scrutiny by cancelling the meeting.

Denise Jeffery insisted the decision to call off the meeting, which had been due to take place this Wednesday, "was not taken lightly", but had been made because of rising Covid cases.

The region's mayor Tracy Brabin, had been set to take public questions from elected members at County Hall.

Senior Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors had written to Labour's Coun Jeffery on Thursday to express "dismay" at the move and suggested Wakefield's ruling party was trying to "avoid scrutiny".

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Lib Dem group leader Tom Gordon had also been critical of Coun Jeffery's decision.

They also contrasted the council's approach to that of Parliament, where MPs are continuing to debate in person.

Responding to the letter, Councillor Jeffery said the health and safety "of everyone concerned must come first."

She said: "The decision was not taken lightly, and I absolutely refute the suggestion it has been made to avoid scrutiny of the ruling group.

"On this occasion the main body of the council meeting was a presentation and Q&A session with the West Yorkshire Mayor.

Tory group leader Nic Stansby was one of four Opposition councillors who signed the letter criticising the move last week.

"To be very clear this is not scrutinising this council. Nor is it scrutinising the Mayor or (West Yorkshire) Combined Authority.

“The meeting was cancelled due to the significant and continued rise of Covid -19 infections in the district.

"It is very disappointing that Opposition parties are seeking to make a political issue out of a health crisis."

In her letter to the four councillors who signed last week's letter, Coun Jeffery said "drawing parallels with Westminster is "not helpful", adding that Parliament runs by "different rules" to local authorities.

Alongside the announcement last week, Wakefield Council said a number of other council meetings scheduled for this month would be postponed or held virtually.

Councils are now no longer allowed to officially make decisions on virtual meetings.

But some other authorities have continued to meet exclusively online since last summer, and allow their chief executives to simply rubberstamp any decisions indicated by councillors during the meeting.

Coun Jeffery said that in Wakefield, the council "fully intend to revert to in person meetings of all formal committees as soon as it is possible to do so."

Local Democracy Reporting Service