LABOUR comfortably held power in Sunderland and South Tyneside, the two council areas of Tyne and Wear which counted last night.

In both cases Labour made gains, with the coalition partner parties suffering a backlash from voters over cutbacks.

Sunderland's election staff maintained their reputation for being the country's quickest counters, with council leader Paul Watson's return in his Pallion seat being declared at 10.53pm, less than an hour after the polls closed.

Labour won 22 of the 26 seats up for grabs out of the overall 75 on the council, making four gains, all from the Conservatives, in St Peter's, St Chad's, Washington East and Washington South wards.

As the main opposition, the Conservatives see their strength drop from 18 to 14 seats in the council chamber.

The Liberal Democrats, who only have one seat on the council, fared badly, coming fourth behind some of the minor parties in many wards and only polling 6 per cent of the vote.

Coun Watson said it vindicated what the Labour Party in the city has been arguing, over the scale and ferocity of the coalition cutbacks.

Labour now have 56 seats, with the Conservatives on 14, while the four Independents include anti-quarry landfill campaigner Colin Wakefield, who was re-elected with a 428 majority over Labour in the Copt Hill ward in Houghton-le-Spring.

In South Tyneside the ruling Labour group was strengthened with three gained three seats to comfortably retain power, with the various independents sitting above both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who are now left with only one seat each.

The Labour gains included Conservative leader Donald Wood's Cleadon and East Boldon seat, plus one each from the Liberal Democrats in Hebburn North and from the Progressive party at West Park.

Council leader Iain Malcolm, who was re-elected in Horsley Hill ward, said it reflected the anger of the electorate over the coalition cuts.

Labour now have 39 of the 54 seats, with the various independent parties holding 13 and the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives left with just one seat each.

Counts take place later today for the other three Tyne and Wear councils, Newcastle, North Tyneside and South Tyneside.

Keen interest surrounds the outcome in Newcastle where Labour are expected to strongly press the ruling Liberal Democrats.

But two seats in Newcastle, Westerhope and Byker, must have by elections following deaths of candidates over the last two days.

In North Tyneside there is no overall control, but with a Conservative Mayor, while Labour is in power in Gateshead.

The regional count for Referendum over the AV voting system also takes place, back in Sunderland, later today.