Labour gives 'cautious welcome' to proposed new Northumberland County Council leader - but warn it is prepared to vote for his removal if they don't see change

The Labour opposition has issued a ‘cautious welcome’ to the likely new leader of Northumberland County Council.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 12:17 pm
Cllr Glen Sanderson.
Cllr Glen Sanderson.

However, the group has also set out its expectations of the new holder of the post, warning that it is prepared to resort to trying to remove them again ‘if we don’t see the changes we’re looking for’.

The previous Tory leader was removed from his position by a single vote in a motion of no confidence on Wednesday, September 2.

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Cllr Sanderson became deputy leader after the resignation of Cllr Wayne Daley in August, and then acting leader in the wake of Cllr Jackson’s dismissal.

And on Friday, September 11, the Conservative group officially elected Cllr Sanderson as its leader with Cllr Richard Dodd, the current business chairman, as deputy.

However, the council leader has to be voted in by the full council, so Cllr Sanderson will need to be backed by a majority of members later today, although it appears that Labour is not going to try to prevent this.

Its group leader, Cllr Susan Dungworth, said: “It was a sad day when we were left with no other option but to move a vote of no confidence in the previous leader.

“It is right and proper that the Conservative-led council appoints the new leader; it was never our intention to influence that or attempt some kind of takeover.

“However, it must be remembered that the new leader is there to serve the whole council and all the people who live in Northumberland. The previous leader was only part of the problem and we’re expecting things to look and feel different with a new person in post.”

She added: “Northumberland County Council needs strong and trusted political leadership, especially at the moment when residents and businesses are looking to us for support and protection as cases of Covid-19 rise again. We welcome Glen Sanderson as leader and, if he delivers what he promises, then he will have our full support.”

Among Labour’s expectations of the new leadership team are that there are new cabinet members ‘with untarnished reputations’; the immediate return of the chief executive or to be given a full explanation if this is not possible; and a fully independent investigation into recent allegations.

In terms of the cabinet, as previously reported, the administration is using the enforced change of its leadership to amend the responsibilities of the various portfolios, including the creation of an equality and diversity champion.

The personnel are yet to be confirmed, but, at the very least, there will be a new cabinet member to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Cllr Cath Homer and a new chairman will need to be chosen to replace Cllr Dodd, or a new deputy if Cllr Barry Flux moves into the chair.

Cllr Dungworth added: “Having to remove a council leader is an experience none of us want to repeat. However, we are prepared to repeat it if we don’t see the changes we’re looking for.

“We would welcome it if Cllr Sanderson starts as he means to go on and we are not left in the dark about issues that affect the people we represent in the county.”

The ousting of Cllr Jackson came as part of the row between the Conservative administration and the chief executive Daljit Lally, sparked by Mrs Lally being placed on ‘extended leave’ just after she emailed all councillors with what she claimed were ‘serious whistle-blowing concerns’.

There have been a range of allegations and counter-allegations in leaked emails since, although nothing has been made concrete publicly, with Mrs Lally and the political leadership declining to comment.

Northumbria Police has confirmed it has been contacted on two occasions in relation to the county council and its regeneration company, Advance Northumberland, but has not said any more at this stage.

Three cabinet members – Cllrs Daley, Homer and Veronica Jones – resigned, ahead of the vote of no confidence, which was made possible by three Tory rebels – Cllr Daley plus Cllrs Christine Dunbar and Mark Swinburn, who all represent Cramlington wards.

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