Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Making Very Free with the New Freemen; Outrage over Rash of Awards

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Making Very Free with the New Freemen; Outrage over Rash of Awards

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Black

A ROW has erupted after a soon-to-be-abolished council conferred its highest civic honour on 20 separate people at the same time.

Since 1979 Blyth Valley Council has only awarded the coveted Freedom of the Borough honour to 28 individuals and organisations in recognition of their outstanding service to the area. Now the honour has been conferred on 10 senior councillors, nine long-serving officers and local Labour MP Ronnie Campbell in one fell swoop - before the council disappears under Northumberland's local government reorganisation in April.

The new Freemen include Labour councillors Dave Stephens, Gordon Knox and Bob Cole, and senior Liberal Democrat opposition members Jeff Reid, Lesley Rickerby and Ian Tompkins.

Yesterday the decision came under fire from Independent borough councillor Colin Brown, who claims it cheapens the honour of being made a Freeman.

"It appears to me that the political parties have had their heads together over this matter and decided, as the council is finishing, they should share what is left amongst them, and also add a few officers," he said.

"Freedom is the highest honour a borough can bestow and it should only be given for outstanding services to the council. What are these people's distinguished achievements beyond their call of duty?

"To me it is a case of grab what you can before we close down. I believe this motion will drastically reduce the honour of being a Freeman in this borough, and people will view Blyth Valley Council with contempt."

Coun Brown's criticism draw an angry response from Labour council leader Dave Stephens, who said the 20 recipients had clocked up almost 500 years of dedicated community service between them. "Some of the officers have worked their backsides off for 35 years in Blyth Valley and Ronnie Campbell has served 20 years as a councillor followed by 21 years as MP. …

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