AN MP criticised for not spending enough time in his role as a county councillor has described it as a “misunderstanding”.

Conservative MP for Sedgefield Paul Howell was the subject of criticism this week with social media users saying they were “horrified” by his declaration in the parliamentary register of interests.

Mr Howell stated in the declaration he had worked ten hours for the month as a Durham county councillor, representing Aycliffe North and Middridge, but said it was a nominal figure for the amount of time he spent physically in the constituency.

Fellow county councillor John Clare said: “Paul and I have worked very collegiately as ward councillors, but I am horrified that he has declared that he only works 10 hours a month. That not only reflects badly on him, it reinforces the falsehood that all councillors ‘do nothing’ for their communities. I average more hours than that per day.”

In response, Mr Howell said in his work as an MP he visits London four days a week but said there is crossover in his roles and feels his work as an MP gives him better access to decision makers to discuss and make positive impacts on county council issues.

He also said he gives his Durham County Council allowance to charitable organisations in his constituency.

He said: “I think it’s misinterpretation of what I meant. The leverage of my ability to impact the constituency is substantially higher being an MP.

“I declare time on different things showing what I’m doing but they cross with each other. However, if I say I’m doing 40 hours a week on each I’ll get criticised for that as people will say I can’t be in all these places at once, so I put down the amount of time I am physically in the constituency. However, my phone is always available, as is my email and doing all these roles I can give a different type of representation.”

Mr Howell, who is also a Darlington Borough councillor for the Hummersknott ward, said he is doing his best to keep in touch with community groups but said it has become challenging due to his busy schedule.

He has announced plans to stand down as councillor as said he is trying to "walk the line as best as he can" but feels doing all roles to the best of his ability at the same time is not sustainable.

Mr Howell said he will time his resignations with elections held in May.

The MP said: “I’m trying to do the right thing and believe I’m doing the right thing. If I stood down immediately the council would have to do a by-election which would cost.”

CriticPaul Daly, Sedgefield Constituency Labour Party said: “Councillor Howell MP led voters to believe that he would vacate his county council and borough council roles following the election. It would be reasonable to assume this would be much earlier than six months after the election. The people of his ward deserve representation. Luckily they have a hard working and dedicated county councillor, John Clare, to represent them who works incredibly hard despite little support from other councillors in his ward.”