THE new Tory chair of a key committee of a Conservative-led council has pledged to give its leadership “a good roasting” and enable difficult questions to be asked of the authority to ensure residents get best services.

After being elected as chair of the Communities and Local Services scrutiny committee on Darlington Borough Council, Councillor Mike Renton used his first meeting to set out his plans for a shake-up of authority’s scrutiny committee system.

The authority has five scrutiny committees, which influence the policies and decisions made by the council and other organisations involved in delivering public services.

The scrutiny committees gather evidence on issues affecting local people and can investigate any issue which affects the local area or the area’s inhabitants, but Cllr Renton, a public relations consultant who was elected to Stephenson ward last year, said previous scrutiny had been “very weak, and ineffective”.

He said not all councillors had been engaged with the process and were often more concerned about representing their party as opposed to residents. In addition, Cllr Renton said scrutiny has not been given the importance that it deserved, often being seen “as an afterthought or box-ticking exercise”.

Cllr Renton told the committee he wanted to oversee significant changes to how the council’s scrutiny committees operate to make them more effective and accessible to the community. He said by making the process more transparent it could encourage community involvement.

Cllr Renton said: “The community is what scrutiny is all about. In here more than anywhere, you are best placed to represent your residents by holding the council, the cabinet and its officers to account. It’s not the place for party politics, and for that reason I will not tolerate any attempts at political points scoring, from anyone.

“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the difficult questions, we will regularly invite cabinet members in for a good roasting, but I don’t want to hear about something that happened five years ago that has no relevance to the subject matter. If you have a question about potholes, I don’t want to know what you think of Boris Johnson or Kier Starmer.”

After the meeting the new chairman of the children and young people’s scrutiny committee, long-serving Labour councillor Cyndi Hughes said she thought Cllr Renton has been “speaking from a lack of experience” when he said scrutiny at the council had been weak. She added: “Scrutiny has functioned pretty well. He is basing that view, maybe, on his very short time in council.”