INDEPENDENT councillors have been accused of pulling the wool over voters’ eyes to gain power on Teesside.

More than a third of members in the Tees Valley are now independent – or part of independent groups – on the back of May’s local elections.

But worries about how many independents sit on a Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) panel has sparked fierce criticism of how they are classed at the latest scrutiny meeting.

Cllr Doris Jones, Conservative member for Sadberge and Middleton St. George, feared independents who didn’t belong to groups were being excluded from being properly represented.

And the Darlington councillor accused Thornaby Independent Association (TIA) of “misusing the word independent” given TIA is registered as a party with the Electoral Commission.

Cllr Jones added: “They’ve labelled themselves wrongly and that’s pulling the wool over the eyes of the electorate, if that’s the case.”

Criticisms came after a “call-in” of the TVCA’s constitution was lodged by Labour councillors with concerns about budget timetables and how many independent councillors are given scrutiny positions.

Former leader of Darlington Council Stephen Harker claimed independent groups registered as political parties were “not independent” and should be treated as parties in their own right.

The Labour member added: “There are two I’m aware of – one is the TIA which is a registered political party and is therefore not independent in any way, shape or form.

“They are in a political party just as I am.

“So, it makes it even more of a nonsense to make the assumption that anyone who is not a member of Labour, Tory or the Lib Dems is a member of the same group.

But Cllr Steve Walmsley, TIA member for Mandale and Victoria, hit back after the meeting, saying: "Labour and the Conservative Party are the same – they are ruled from the centre and we’re not – we’re independent from all the rubbish that goes on and we speak out on all things.”

Cllr Walmsley added TIA was registered with the Electoral Commission so it was able to use a logo.

“It’s the only way to get recognition on a ballot paper to give us a fair sporting chance,” he said.

“That’s the one thing different about independents – we have got to prove ourselves, unlike other parties who can pin a rosette on a donkey and tell people to vote for them.”