A SENIOR councillor has been sacked for speaking out about her concerns at her council building up millions of pounds of debt for secret projects.

Suzy Hamel was told she had been removed from Eastleigh's ruling cabinet after openly criticising the borough council's financial strategy.

Now she has criticised the “iron rule” of council leader Keith House, even likening his position to that of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Cllr Hamel has since quit the Liberal Democrat group but remains an independent councillor for Hamble and Butlocks Heath.

Last night Cllr House's actions were described as “undemocratic” and “heavy handed” by opponents.

It follows mounting criticism of Eastleigh council bosses for a lack of transparency about how they are making nearly £1million in savings from the budget and concern over the council’s rising level of debt, which will stand at more than £150million by this time next year.

Cllr Hamel, cabinet member for business, skills and education for nearly two years, made the “tongue in cheek” reference to Mr Putin in a statement to the Daily Echo.

She said: “After formally announcing at the council’s budget meeting last Thursday that I was standing down as a councillor and cabinet member in May and speaking out about my concerns over the budget I have been relieved of my cabinet responsibilities.

“I had previously raised concerns at management meetings about the proposed council tax freeze in the face of severe internal efficiency measures. Now I have spoken out against Cllr House’s iron-ruled administration at EBC, perhaps I should be very careful about where I take my tea!”

It is understood she was making reference to the poisoning of former Russian secret service Alexander Litvinenko who died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210. A public inquiry concluded in January his murder was probably personally approved by Mr Putin.

Cllr Hamel, who was first elected in 2012, is standing down at the local council elections in May.

But prior to confirming her departure at full council she questioned the budget and later abstained from voting on it.

She raised concern at the council’s level of borrowing, which had been highlighted by Conservative opposition leader Godfrey Olson.

She said: "I think if we continue on the level of borrowing we are I must agree with Cllr Olson that we are living slightly precariously - it's very difficult to know what will happen in the future."

She also said it was “a shame” that the council had not taken the opportunity to raise council tax slightly given that it would likely be prevented from doing so in future years.

An email from Keith House to Cllr Hamel read: “Given your decision not to support cabinet’s budget and our tradition of collective cabinet accountability, I have no choice but to relieve you of your cabinet responsibilities.”

Cllr Olson said: “It’s regrettable. I have been concerned for some time that politics has got in the way of people.

“To take that draconian approach really is going over the top – this is not the House of Commons.

“This is a local authority elected to serve the local people and local and community issues and we should all have that opportunity of speaking out as we see things. We don’t need any other members if Cllr House is there because he seems to dictate all the policy.”

Martin Lyon, UKIP county councillor for Bishopstoke, described Cllr House's actions as undemocratic.

“I’m not surprised – it’s not very liberal and not very democratic,” he said. “I wouldn’t agree that’s a good way to do local politics.

“From Keith’s point of view it’s a vote of no confidence in him essentially from one of his borough councillors and clearly that goes against Keith’s view of politics.

“If you don’t agree and toe the party line then you have to question your position.

“She’s been elected to express an opinion. If she can’t do that then that’s undemocratic. It’s heavy handed and draconian.”

Shere Sattar, from the Eastleigh Labour Party, said: “It shouldn’t be like that. That’s what democracy is.”

This comes just days after concerns were raised about transparency in the council's finances, with calls for bosses to provide the figures.

As previously reported, the council is yet to reveal how it will shrink its spending from £10.9million to £9.8million next year.

Cllr House has said there will be no frontline services cuts but there would be a "gradual drift down" in staff numbers.

He said the council was achieving the cuts through working in new ways to be more efficient and finding ways to raise money, such as its assets.

There has also been concern at the level of borrowing.

The council's debt is set to rise by £28million by the end of the year, taking the council's total debt to £154million.

But the council is yet to reveal exactly what that money is being spent on.

Cllr House has been the unmoveable figure at the heart of Eastleigh Borough Council for the past two decades.

Despite the party's flagging popularity nationally, it holds 38 of the 44 council seats.

But his time in office has not been without its controversies.

He faced calls for his resignation in December 2014 after he was embroiled in a love triangle.

The Daily Echo reported how Cllr House, who takes home around £70,000 from his borough and county council roles, had struck up a relationship with Cllr Tonia Craig having ended his 14-year relationship with Cllr Louise Bloom.

Cllr Craig, of Bursledon and Old Netley ward, was promoted to join the cabinet as member for health and safety – alongside Cllr House and his former partner.

The promotion came before Cllr Craig and Cllr House began their relationship and it was explained that the leader did not appoint Cllr Craig to her position.

Cllr Bloom, then member for environment and sustainability, failed to attend a number of cabinet meetings then resigned her cabinet role.

The council also came under fire for its decision to buy a hotel at the home of Hampshire Cricket in 2012.

Council bosses promised to buy the Hilton Ageas hotel at the West End sports ground for £27.4million.

The project ran into trouble in October 2013, when main contractor Denizen went into administration and the site was shut down for six months until a new contractor could be brought on board.

Most recently the Daily Echo has told how the council’s plans for future development were rejected forcing the council back to the drawing board.

Now the council is looking at up to 20,750 homes as it puts together a new local plan extended up to 2036 - 10,000 more than the last plan.

Cllr House and other senior Liberal Democrat councillors did not respond to requests for a comment.