Community leaders gathered on Tuesday to welcome Cllr Frank Rust into office and thank outgoing mayor Cllr Brian Jupp for his year of service.

But at the appointment of committee members for the forthcoming year opposition groups attacked the decision to make Conservatives chairmen and vice-chairmen of all policy and review panels.

Councillors from any party may chair the panels, which oversee the work of their five cabinet members and hold them to account.

But the Conservatives used their majority to place Tories at the head of all five panels.

Concerns have also been raised over the increasing powers of deputy council leader Cllr Peter Moyle, whose work is not scrutinised by a dedicated panel.

This is now seen as having greater significance since the split of the leisure and promotion portfolio, leaving Cllr Moyle with the vital role of overseeing borough regeneration.

Council leader John Marsh welcomed new cabinet member Cllr Rosemary Possee, who will have responsibility for leisure and youth.

Cllr Marsh said: “Some, I know, have suggested that this change means we should have another, sixth, scrutiny panel.

“I do not think that is necessary or desirable.

If anything, there is a valid argument for having fewer scrutiny panels — in fact the former leader of the Labour group once argued for having only one scrutiny panel. That is going too far.”

He assured the council there was no attempt to hide from the scrutiny process, saying: “This administration is quite happy to be scrutinised on any aspect by any of the panels. We want complete scrutiny and we want it to be effective.”

Labour leader Cllr Keith Dibble said his group was disappointed the Conservatives “did not have the courage to appoint chairs from all parties”.

Referring to Cllr Marsh’s recent call for his colleagues to back or sack him, Cllr Dibble said: “The leader of the council can be courageous at times but it would have been great to allow councillors of the review panels to be cross-party.”

But Cllr Dibble did not go as far as to propose members from his own party to head the panels, saying he would not be drawn into ‘Toytown’ politics.

In contrast Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Craig Card argued that this was the only opportunity for discussion and challenge.

He proposed candidates for the chairmen and vice-chairmen of two panels but was outvoted by the Tories.

However Cllr Marsh admitted that the scrutiny process within the council might need to be revisited.

“We feel that the role of the scrutiny panels needs strengthening and if this means member training is needed then we will put that in place.

“We will set up a small cross-party task and finish working group to see if there are improvements to be made in the way we effect scrutiny.”