A METRO Mayor has come under fire for being absent from scrutiny meetings.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has been challenged after he told a Parliamentary committee he had made himself available to scrutiny sessions at his combined authority “multiple times”.

Mr Houchen made the statement during a session being held by MPs investigating the future of devolution in England.

But Councillor Norma Stephenson, who is chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee at the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), said: “The mayor has not attended a meeting in the last 12 months as was reported in the overview and scrutiny’s annual report.”

The function of scrutiny is to hold decision makers to account and to make recommendations for improvement, while decisions can also be ‘called in’ for review.

Scrutiny members have expressed frustration previously at Mr Houchen failing to attend overview and scrutiny committee meetings to discuss some matters, although senior officers from the authority are regularly in attendance.

Stockton North Labour MP Alex Cunningham said Mr Houchen needed to “up his game considerably”.

He said: “It would also be good if he would also meet with all local MPs, not just Conservatives, and I would hope that he would take a big step forward and follow the excellent example of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and hold regular public meetings to answer questions from the public.”

Asked to explain Mr Houchen’s comment, a spokesman for TVCA said the mayor had attended scrutiny committee meetings on five occasions between September 2017 and March 2019, the last time he appeared in person.