A PROPOSAL to bring responsibility for a Northumberland County Council-owned regeneration company under its audit committee descended into a row between councillors.

As previously reported, a proposal was on the table for Northumberland County Council’s audit committee to take on responsibility for oversight of Advance Northumberland and any other of the authority’s subsidiaries.

It follows on the back of a suggestion from the authority’s new external auditors Mazars for a group audit committee approach, "to enhance oversight of governance throughout all the entities within the county council’s accounting group boundary".

The move had been supported by the audit committee at its meeting on Wednesday, September 30, but as it required a change to the constitution, it had to go to the full council for approval.

Coun. Nick Oliver introduced the item by saying he would keep it brief, "as it’s fairly straightforward and will hopefully have a lot of support" given that "it’s another step to improve the governance".

However, that did not turn out to be the case.

A proposal by Lib Dem Coun. Jeff Reid that the report should go to a scrutiny committee first – as it appeared that the audit committee had agreed to expand its own remit and given itself more work – descended into a spat.

Coun. Mark Swinburn, a Conservative on the audit committee, highlighted that this proposal had been a suggestion of the council’s new external auditors, Mazars.

Labour leader, Coun. Susan Dungworth, raised concerns about "political interference", while Coun. Georgina Hill, the chair of audit committee, noted that Coun. Reid was a director of Arch and then Advance, before suggesting that those speaking in support of his motion (all Conservatives) were seeking "revenge" for the vote to oust the former Tory council leader, Peter Jackson, in September.

A frustrated Coun. Reid responded: “The corporate services and economic growth scrutiny committee might look at it and say, this is absolutely fantastic, we’re not going to change any of it, which would be absolutely fine by me.”

Coun. Reid and Coun. Hill were then talking over each other - with Coun. Reid heard to say: "You shut up" - before both they were both muted by the business chairman, Coun. Barry Flux.

Eventually, after more debate and a 10-minute adjournment for officers to confer and consult the constitution, council leader Glen Sanderson said: “I assure that this is not any kind of plot or something which has been thought up before.”

The advice to members was that the recommendations have been made to the full council, which is the appropriate place for this to be reported and scrutinised, and that it does not fall within the remit of the scrutiny committee.

Therefore, Coun. Reid withdrew his motion "under duress", after explaining that he had ‘"ust wanted things to be done properly".

The proposal to designate the council’s audit committee as the group audit committee was approved by a large majority on a show of hands.