New Lab-Lib Dem alliance takes control of Cumbria County Council tomorrow (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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New Lab-Lib Dem alliance takes control of Cumbria County Council tomorrow
THE new political alliance running Cumbria County Council for the next four years is due to be sworn in tomorrow. (Thursday).
Following the May elections, Labour became the largest party after winning 35 wards countywide, but failed to secure the 43 wards needed to run the authority alone.
Following ‘exhaustive talks’ this week, they have decided to share power until 2017 with the Liberal Democrats, who gained 16 of the county’s 84 seats.
It also means key positions on the county council’s governing 10-member Cabinet, will be held by three South Lakeland-based Lib Dems.
But the Conservatives face four years on the opposition benches - despite achieving the highest number of votes for a single party in the county elections.
The Conservatives won 31.6 per cent share of the vote or 39,581 votes in total.
Labour attracted 34,876 votes and the Liberal Democrats 23,282 countywide.
The deal between Labour and the Lib Dems also ends the Conservative-Labour coalition that ruled the authority for the past four years.
Labour stalwart Coun Stewart Young becomes leader of the authority for the third time since entering local politics in 1989, having held the top seat in both 2001 and 2005.
Coun Young, 55, a married former tax manager for an accountancy firm, told the Gazette: “We’re really pleased to have reached an agreement and hopefully we can form a stable administration.
"Together our parties have a combined 51 wards out of 84 and that should give us stabilty which is necessary because of the challenges the authority is facing.”
Coun Young, who represents the Upperby ward in Carlisle, added that the talks had involved sitting down with the Liberal Democrats to identify shared priorities in their respective manifestos.
He added that as the party attracting the largest number of votes, the Conservatives would not be ignored.
One of the first tasks for the new administration will be to approve the interim successor to the recently retired, Jill Stannard, 55, who decided to leave the £170,000-a-year post early.
Asked if in light of the £50 million savings the authority needs to make over the next few years whether the size of the incoming Chief Executive salary would be examined, Coun Young said it would be 'looked at'.
Coun Young said: "I don't think we should set salaries on the basis of a referendum. We are in a national market place and you have to pay the right salary to attract the people you want.
"Salaries are higher nationally, some head teachers will get well in excess of £100,000 and some GPs have six figure salaries. In Cumbrian terms these are very significant salaries, but nationally they are not."
Conservative group leader on the authority, Coun James Airey who represents Ulverston West, said he regarded the new political power share as a ‘dangerous lurch to the left’.
He said it would mean an authority focussed on satisfying Labour-voting heartlands like west Cumbria and Carlisle - at the expense of rural Cumbria.
Coun Airey, a Furness farmer, this week handed over his role as leader of the Conservatives on South Lakeland District Council to Bowness South Tory, David Williams.
Coun Airey said of the new arrangements: “I still think it’s a great shame. Stewart Young is a very capable guy but there will be no doubt where the cuts will come. They really butchered our rural areas in the past.”
"The emphasis now will be on him to prove that they can govern for the whole of Cumbria and that we won't just be ruled by the West Coast."
Six cabinet posts overall will be occupied by Labour councillors including Barrow’s long-serving Anne Burns.
Portfolio holders will be announced tomorrow at a meeting in Kendal of the new full council.
Liberal Democrat group leader Jo Stephenson will become number two on the authority and deputy leader to Coun Young.
Cabinet places will also go to the Lib Dems' Patricia Bell in Penrith, Ian Stewart representing the Kent Estuary and Clare Feeney-Johnson from Kendal.
Coun Stephenson said: “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.”
Westmorland MP Tim Farron said he would work with the newly-installed Lib Dems on the authority to 'deliver better services, roll out broadband and protect our schools'.
Coun David Williams, a former solicitor and company director who now inherits the Conservative group leader role on SLDC from Coun Airey, said of the new appointment:
"I am honoured to lead the Conservatives on South Lakeland District Council.
"We will back up the (Lib Dem) administration when they are right and give them hell when they are wrong.
"Conservatives will continue to push for car parking reform and cleaner streets as well as standing up for residents who all to often go unheard."
Grange's councillor, Tom Harvey, continues in his role as deputy leader of the group on SLDC.
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