Opposition councillors accused the ruling group of “running scared” after they voted against introducing public questions at meetings.

At an ill-tempered meeting at Epsom Town Hall on Tuesday, the Residents Association (RA) ruling group voted against a Lib Dem and Conservative-led motion to introduce a question and answer session at the beginning of full council meetings.

During the meeting, Conservative councillor Sean Sullivan described the decision as “a means to avoid scrutiny” and claimed the council as “out of touch”.

He said: “They simply don’t like being scrutinised.

“There is nothing wrong with public questions - many other councils across the county do this - we are in the minority.”

The motion, tabled by Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Taylor, would have committed the council to introducing the half-hour sessions by July this year.

However, RA councillor Eber Kington said that the matter should go before the constitutional working party for discussion rather than be implemented straight away.

He said: “I think that this is a matter that needs to be discussed and debated, not introduced right now.”

RA Councillor Robert Leach added: “Committee is the proper place for this to be discussed, that is the right place to debate things.

“We already have questions for the public and that is at the public scrutiny committee, however we have only ever had one person come to this - it is hardly ever used.”

Lib Dem Jonathan Lees responded by saying the council risked missing out on a vital opportunity to become more democratic.

He said: “Do we have something to hide? If not then we should introduce this motion. Nine other council’s across the area have this - we risk being in the minority.”

The council voted against the motion by 20 votes to 14 Councillor Sullivan added after the meeting: “Councillor Leach once described the opposition’s ability to table a motion as a ‘privilege’, such is their attitude to being scrutinised.

“They claim to be the party of the residents - but when they get the opportunity to face residents they turn it down.”