DURHAM County Council is promising greater transparency and accountability under its new constitution.

The Labour-controlled authority has adopted a cabinet system, run as an experiment for 18 months, which will formally come into operation in the New Year.

The system, modelled loosely on the way the House of Commons works, was put forward as an option by the Government as a way of improving decision-making and countering apathy towards local government.

The council was accused of secrecy when it decided, unlike many other councils, to hold cabinet meetings in private.

But with the system's adoption, cabinet meetings will be open to the Press and public, except when confidential or sensitive information is being considered.

The council's corporate and legal services director, Andrew North, said: "This new constitution is a real change for the county council.

"We are making our arrangements more transparent and encouraging our councillors to be more accountable. There is a lot more openness about the cabinet.

"There was a big fuss about it not being open to the public.

"We asked the public about that and well over 90 per cent of people said it should meet in public. Based on that response, that's what we are doing."

Decisions taken by the cabinet will be examined by the scrutiny and overview committee, which will have the power to call in decisions it wants to review.

The council's deputy leader, Don Ross, said: "We are putting in a modernised system of local government and services.''

But the independent member for Weardale, Councillor John Shuttleworth, said: "I think it puts too much power in a few hands - the cabinet - and will create two tiers of councillor.

"All councillors should be involved in making decisions, not just a select few.''