A Labour council cabinet member has been accused of “making a mockery of local democracy” after she was caught knitting during a committee appearance where she was meant to be defending their decision to make cuts of £11m to services in Monmouthshire.

 Commenting, Welsh Conservative Shadow Local Government Minister Sam Rowlands MS said: “This behaviour is quite insulting and makes a mockery of local democracy. It is rather shocking to see such a flippant attitude by Labour when they’re supposed to be defending their £11m worth of cuts despite a better than expected financial settlement.

 “Residents expect their councillors – specially the ones running the local authority – to be paying attention in meetings where the very fabric of public service delivery in the area is under question.

 “The incident also clearly supports the hesitations I have already spoken about regarding an overreliance on hybrid meetings, with councillors using it to evade their responsibilities, while missing out on building new relationships, skills, and experiences.

 “Let’s see Labour needle their way out of this one.”

 Cllr Rachel Garrick, who is responsible for finance, was captured on camera knitting has defended her actions saying said she was doing so to help her concentrate and cope with pain. 

“I think Cllr John has failed to really understand diversity and actually ask why somebody might be knitting in this situation. 

Cllr Garrick

The Labour cabinet member was attending the Monmouthshire County Council meeting remotely on the Teams video conferencing system with some councillors in the chamber in Usk and others also logged in remotely. 

The Thursday, January 26 meeting was the second two hour session in as many days Cllr Garrick had attended where she talked councillors through the budget proposals before answering questions alongside other cabinet members and senior officers. 

Conservative group leader Richard John later shared the council’s video stream of meeting in which Cllr Garrick could clearly be seen knitting. 

Sharing the video on Twitter he wrote: “Labour Cabinet Member Cllr Garrick brought into select committee to be scrutinised on her proposed £11million cuts to services in Monmouthshire County Council caught knitting while answering questions! This behaviour brings the council into disrepute.” 

He also said “Scrutiny is key to a healthy democracy and cabinet members should pay full attention when called in to answer councillors’ questions, especially on such controversial budget proposals.” 

But Cllr Garrick has hit back and said Cllr John had failed to understand “hidden disabilities” having already taken to Twitter to respond to “some interest in my knitting during meetings.” 

She wrote on Twitter: “ It also helps me cope with pain from sitting with arthritis in my cervical, thoracic & lumbar spine & sacroiliac joints.” 

“I think Cllr John has failed to really understand diversity and actually ask why somebody might be knitting in this situation. 

“Those of us who have unseen disabilities are a part of society,” said Councillor Garrick

Labour colleague and cabinet member Sara Burch, offered her support on Twitter and highlighted that Cllr Garrick had been attending council meetings while also supporting her sick mother. 

At Monmouthshire council’s cabinet meeting on January 18 Cllr John praised Cllr Garrick who gave her budget presentation via video link from the car park of the Grange Hospital, in Cwmbran, where she was attending with her mother. 

Cllr Garrick said: “I think he (Cllr John) actually said it demonstrated my absolute commitment.” 

The councillor who represents Caldicot Castle said she would have preferred Cllr John to have spoken to her before criticising her publicly. 

“I think it’s a really easy thing to fall into and not understand diversity and how others think or use tools to manage life or pain. It would have been nice if he had reached out, or if anyone in the meeting had asked what I was doing.” 

The councillor also said knitting had helped her concentrate during a “really stressful time, it meant I was more present than I would have been if I was sat stuck still.” 

She also said knitting wasn’t the same as scrolling through emails, or writing speeches, as other councillors do during meetings.