Community leaders gathered on Tuesday to welcome Cllr Frank Rust into office, and thank out-going 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 place Conservative councillors as chairmen and vice-chairmen of all the policy and review panels.

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

But the Conservative leadership used its majority to place members of the party 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 that there was no attempt to hide away 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 group leader Cllr Keith Dibble said his group was disappointed that the Conservative leadership did not have the courage to appoint chairmen from all parties.

Referring to Cllr Marsh’s recent call on 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 “toy-town” politics on such occasion.

In contrast, Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Craig Card argued that this was the only opportunity to discuss and challenge the matter.

He proposed candidates for both the chairman and vice-chairman of two panels, but on both occasions, his group was outvoted by the Tories.

Responding to the criticism, 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 members 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.”