As election excitement settles following the local elections (May 4), the Herefordshire Council Conservative group has formed a minority administration, appointing a number of Greens and independents from the former administration into various chair and committee roles.
At the helm of the new council is Cllr Jonathan Lester. Assisting him will be Cllr Roger Phillips as chairperson; and the Green Party’s Cllr Stef Simmons was selected as vice-chairperson.
It’s a secret to no-one that the Liberal Democrats did exceptionally well at the May 4 local elections and now stand as the council second largest party with 12 seats; next to the Conservatives with 21 seats, the Greens with 9, with the remaining council made up of smaller groups and independents.
The question on a lot of people’s lips is how the Lib Dems are going to use their political clout as the second largest party. Having been spurned by their previous governmental coalition as well as facing substantial disagreements on current policies and issues, the Lib Dems are unlikely to rush into any kind of partnership; and their outspoken criticisms of the previous administration - the Independent Green Alliance - of being financially irresponsible, as well as rifts within the coalition itself make them unappetizing bedfellows.
As a result of this, the Liberal Democrats’ plan is to hold the administration to account, and work with them on agreeable issues. Both Lib Dems and Conservatives have been vocal in their support for a Hereford bypass, so some have speculated whether it’s back on the table.
Liberal Democrat group lead Terry James told the Gazette: “The good people of Herefordshire have had their say and it’s abundantly clear they wanted change. We recognised this and proposed a fundamental shift in the way the council operates by moving to a committee system rather than the current cabinet structure.
“We were happy to act as an interim administration as we moved to the new system but it became clear that our colleagues in the Independent Green Alliance would not accept this unless they were given cabinet seats during the transition. After years of mismanagement that has seen our county council lose tens of millions of pounds - effectively leaving the council in a semi-bankrupt position with depleted unallocated reserve - we couldn’t conscionably enter into a coalition with them.
“Our decision was validated with the vote for chairman of the council; Cllr Ed O’Driscoll was proposed as the Liberal Democrat candidate but only received support from Liberal Democrat colleagues with members of the Independent Green Alliance actually voting in favour of the Conservative candidate. We declined to nominate a candidate to serve with the Conservatives as vice chair, as did Independent members, however the Greens decided to nominate Cllr Stef Simmons who was elected unopposed.
“In essence what we now have is a minority Conservative administration that’s been propped up by former members of the Independent Green Alliance. We were surprised by the turn of events, but residents can rest assured Liberal Democrats will work to ensure we hold the new administration to account as an effective but constructive opposition striving to bring positive change to our County.”
Leadership roles in Herefordshire
Following the elections on May 4, Cllr Jonathan Lester has ascended to the top spot as leader of Herefordshire Council. Assisting him in guiding the council will be Cllr Roger Phillips, elected Chairperson, and Cllr Stef Simmons, who will assume the role of vice-chairperson.
Additionally, a selection of committee chairpersons was also put forward by the Full Council, setting the stage for a year of effective committee-led governance. The elected committee chairpersons are as follows:
The audit and governance committee will be chaired by Cllr David Hitchiner, with Cllr Aubrey Oliver serving as vice-chairperson. The children and young people scrutiny committee will see Cllr Toni Fagan at the helm, assisted by Cllr Liz Harvey.
Cllr Ellie Chowns will lead the connected communities scrutiny committee with Cllr Ed O’Driscoll as her deputy. The employment panel committee is to be chaired by Cllr Jonathan Lester, with Cllr Ellie Chowns assuming the vice-chairperson role.
The environment and sustainability scrutiny committee will be under the direction of Cllr Louis Stark and vice-chairperson Cllr Helen Heathfield. For the health, care, and wellbeing scrutiny committee, Cllr Pauline Crockett will serve as chairperson, with Cllr Kevin Tillett assisting as vice-chairperson.
The planning and regulatory committee has elected Cllr Terry James as chairperson and Cllr Clare Davies as vice-chairperson. Meanwhile, Cllr Liz Harvey and Cllr Jenny Bartlett will take the helm of the scrutiny management board as chairperson and vice-chairperson respectively.
Finally, the Licensing sub-committee will be headed by Cllr Polly Andrews.
When green backs blue
The Green party and Independents for Herefordshire, attempted to form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. They hoped that the addition of the Liberal Democrats’ 12 seats would create a slim majority of 27 seats.
In a bid to accommodate the Liberal Democrats’ stipulations, they suggested a transition to a committee-based decision-making process. In this system, power would be evenly distributed amongst all groups, under a transitional “cabinet of all the talents”.
However, the Green Party has now voiced its discontent with the Liberal Democrats’ committee based approach.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Lib Dems have simply refused to cooperate with other groups, and that the only proposal they made was for Lib Dems to hold all of the power - a clearly undemocratic suggestion,” the Greens have now said.
“The public want a variety of political voices to run the council. But the Liberal Democrats abstained to ensure that Conservative councillors will run the county.”
The Green Party expressed deep concern about the potential harm that this new Conservative administration may inflict on the county.