Row over Tory councillors’ abstentions on miners’ funds

James Matthewson has launched his election campaign. Picture by Rosie Davidson Photography
James Matthewson has launched his election campaign. Picture by Rosie Davidson Photography

A Northumberland County Council hopeful who is standing for Labour has criticised Tory members for abstaining on a vote to investigate the alleged misappropriation of funds from coal-miners’ pensions.

But the Conservative representatives have defended their actions, saying they felt it was outside the remit of the county council.

James Matthewson, 22, is standing for the Alnwick ward at May’s election. He has launched the attack on Tory councillors following the motion in December.

The motion was tabled by Coun Allan Hepple, who represents Cramlington South East. It was worded: ‘Northumberland County Council views with concern the injustice whereby the Treasury receives 50 per cent of surpluses from the Mine Workers Pension Scheme, accumulating so far more than £3billion’ and ‘calls for independent scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee to address this unfair arrangement’.

However, the majority of the Tory group abstained from the vote, including north Northumberland councillors Gordon Castle, Jeff Watson, Trevor Thorne, Anthony Murray and Glen Sanderson.

Mr Matthewson called it ‘blatant discrimination of local ex-miners by Conservative councillors’, adding: “I am saddened and disappointed that our local Tory county councillors believe it is appropriate to misrepresent our residents and the proud coal-mining heritage of our area by abstaining on such an important motion.”

But the Tory group has hit back. Coun Castle described it as a vanity motion by the Labour administration and that it was outside the remit of the county council.

Coun Watson said his father was a miner for nearly 50 years, but added that what was being proposed ‘was outside the control of what county councillors are elected for, so the best thing was to abstain’.

Coun Thorne added: “It is an important issue, but is it something that we don’t feel that we can get involved in.”

Coun Murray and Sanderson agreed with the views of their Conservative colleagues.