WINCHESTER Tories have criticised the new administration for breaking convention to take the chairmanship of a watchdog committee.

For the first time in years the new Liberal Democrat administration has decided to take the chairmanship of the audit committee that acts as a check on how the council is operating.

Tory group leader Caroline Horrill criticised the move: "Audit governance should be transparent and open. This is poor governance."

Cllr Caroline Brook earlier told the Chronicle: "This committee should be chaired by the opposition as it always has been. It is an essential part of council business. The only way for this committee to remain objective is by being chaired by the opposition. I would also very much question the ethics of an administration chairing its own audit committee."

Deputy leader Neil Cutler told cabinet that the audit committee chairmanship was not a 'political' one and that Lib Dem Margot Power was the best person for the job.

Meanwhile former Labour city councillor Patrick Davies maintained his criticism over the lack of openness over changes to the council's constitution. Minutes from several meetings had not been made available on the council website which he branded as "disturbing.".

Mr Davies is concerned about the continued "inappropriate" use of informal policy groups that meet behind closed doors.

"These minutes should be considered by the cabinet and council. If they have not appeared on the website how they be properly considered. I want to know why not."

Council leader Lucille Thompson said she would look into it.

The new Cabinet is:

l Leader with portfolio for communications and transformation - Lucille Thompson;

l Finance and risk - Neil Cutler;

l Environment - Lynda Murphy;

l Built environment and wellbeing - Jackie Porter;

l Housing and asset management - Kelsie Learney;

l Sport, leisure and communities - Malcolm Prince;

l Local economy - Cllr Anne Weir.

There was no place for Kim Gottlieb, the former Tory councillor who has campaigned over Silver Hill aka Saxon Gate. Also senior councillor Martin Tod is not there either but he is fighting for a seat in the European Parliament. Neither was there one for Martin Tod who is also a county councillor and hopeful of winning a set in the European Parliament.

There were also many changes with the replacement of Tories by Lib Dems as representatives on outside bodies such as the Trinity Centre and Citizens Advice.

A focus on the environment has been named as the top priority for the new administration.

It will concentrate on three key areas - reducing the carbon footprint of the council and wider district, balancing the budget, and building homes.

Cllr Thompson said: “Our over-riding priority is to put the environment at the top of our agenda. We have set some very clear challenges for ourselves – not least to make the council carbon neutral by 2024 and the district by 2030. The start of this is adopting an emergency declaration on climate change.

“We want to drastically improve our offer on recycling and want to look at introducing a food waste collection. The quality of our bin collections also needs immediate attention. We will review the council’s financial position to address and close the financial gap, and we will be looking at innovative ways of building more homes for rent and seeking to provide truly affordable homes in the right places across the district.

"All of our work will be underpinned by an open and transparent decision-making process.”

Following the results of May’s election, the Liberal Democrats now have 27 councillors and the Conservatives 18.