Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition set to run Cumbria County Council (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition set to run Cumbria County Council
CUMBRIA County Council will be run by a Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition for the next four years after more than a week of 'exhaustive' talks between councillors reached their conclusion.
Liberal Democrat councillors voted over whether to work with the Conservatives or Labour today following discussions after elections on May 2 returned a hung council.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said members decided to form an alliance with Labour because 'they believed that vital services could be protected, funds to improve our roads could be made available and the most vulnerable would have the support they need'.
As Labour group leader on the council, Stewart Young is set to be confirmed as the authority's new leader at Thursday's full council meeting.
Six cabinet posts overall will be occupied by Labour councillors.
Liberal Democrat group leader Jo Stephenson will become the authority's deputy leader and will be joined in the administration by three other Liberal Democrat councillors.
Penrith councillor Patricia Bell, Ian Stewart from the Kent Estuary and Clare Feeney-Johnson from Kendal have all been elected to cabinet places.
Coun Stephenson said: “This is a fresh start for the people of Cumbria. I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to deliver a council that works for the people throughout the county.
“After exhaustive negotiations the Liberal Democrat group looked at proposals from both the Conservative and Labour parties and took the view that the joint agreement with Labour provided the best opportunity to improve the lives of the people of Cumbria.”
This afternoon, newly-elected Conservative group leader Coun James Airey said Cumbria County Council was having a 'dangerous lurch to the left'.
In a statement, he said the Liberal Democrats had decided to 'go with their natural leanings' in doing a deal with Labour.
He labelled the move 'terrible for rural services' such as local household waste recycling centres and said the Liberal Democrats would 'fail on their promises, just like they had in Government'.
Ben Berry, a Conservative councillor on SLDC who was defeated in the Lakes ward in the county council election, added: “On the streets of Kirkby Lonsdale and Ambleside people went out and voted Lib Dem and Tory. They are going to be very disappointed to now have Labour in the driving seat.”
Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron said: “Today’s deal is protecting vital services that local people rely on.
“I want to thank Jo Stephenson, Clare Feeney-Johnson and Stan Collins for their part in this agreement.
“I will work with the team to deliver better services, roll out broadband and protect our schools.
“The results last week were a massive vote of confidence in the Liberal Democrats – it is now up to the team to deliver and I am sure that they will.”
Some of the policies agreed during the talks include:
• Protecting and seeking additional investment in highways to ensure that they are maintained to the best possible standard
• The council will explore the potential for a 'County Deal' on the model of deals agreed for Liverpool, Manchester and other city areas and to ensure that Cumbria takes full advantage of the potential for devolution of national budgets as a result of the Heseltine Review
• Focus more on early intervention with the aim of reducing the number of looked after Children and developing the council's role as a corporate parent
• Explore the potential to create a single body for the commissioning of health and social care services, improving outcomes for the people of Cumbria
• The new administration will protect Sure Start Children’s Centre focusing on families in greatest need as part of an anti-poverty strategy that tackles the cycle of disadvantage
• Retaining school clothing grants
• The council will seek to introduce a Living Wage and, through its procurement process, encourage other employers to do the same
Councillors had been locked in talks for more than a week after voters returned a hung council in the county-wide elections - the fifth time it has happened in 12 years.
Labour won 35 council wards, eight shy of the 43 required for an outright majority.
The Conservatives won 26 and the Liberal Democrats gained 16.
Seven seats were won by independent councillors.
Talks began between the three major parties on May 3, with new group leaders elected last Tuesday.
Discussions had continued ever since.
For the last four years, Cumbria County Council has been run by a Conservative-Labour alliance with a Conservative leader.
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