St Albans council leader re-elected as parties move towards working closer together
PUBLISHED: 10:00 24 May 2020
Councillor Chris White has been re-elected as the leader of St Albans district leader following a full council meeting carried out on a video call.
The Liberal Democrat leader will continue in his role as head of the minority administration for 2020/2021, after the Labour Party voted to re-elect Cllr White in return “for a commitment to sustained work on our long-term social priorities once the immediate challenge from the coronavirus is overcome”.
This comes as Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green and Independent councillors set out pioneering plans to work closer together.
The new way of working entails moving away from the council’s current one-party-rule system, and into cross-party committees, to enable more thorough scrutiny of major proposals.
Collectively, they have said they will tackle key issues including COVID-19 recovery and supporting local businesses, the climate emergency, housing provision and making the council more democratic and accountable to the public.
The council hopes to make these changes before the end of the year.
Cllr White said: “I am delighted to have been elected Leader again at what is a particularly challenging time for local authorities across the country.
“While the focus of the council must be recovery from COVID-19 it is also important that other key areas are not overlooked, not least the climate emergency – given that environmental solutions are likely to be key to some aspects of recovery.
“I look forward to working with any group which is genuinely committed to serving the district in these areas.”
Labour Group leader Cllr Mal Pakenham said: “Post COVID-19 crisis, the council will need to operate in a different manner.
“Not least because the political, economic and social landscape will have changed.
“Residents and the business community will expect to see cross-party working on these four key areas in order to help our communities to regenerate themselves.
“At this very challenging time, the last thing our district needed was political upheaval in its administration – something which the voting mathematics on council could otherwise have delivered.
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“We have stepped up and ensured that stability.”
Simon Grover, Green councillor and leader of the Green and Independent group, said: “The new committee system will mean decision making is more democratic, more transparent and better quality as it brings together skills and knowledge from across the parties.
“That will be especially valuable as we steer a course through the COVID-19 and climate crises.”
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Conservative leader Cllr Mary Maynard said: “It is good that the Conservative suggestion of a committee system has been taken up by other parties.
“We have been promoting working together as we consider this best at this difficult time.
“The committee system is not compatible with the current leader/cabinet model and I would expect the cabinet to stand down and have their authority delegated to committees.
“If this does not happen at today’s council meeting, then we have not changed the model, just possibly established more expensive ‘talking shops’ where people exchange views, with the cabinet still making the decisions.
“Residents will of course wonder why Conservatives, who make up 40 per cent of councillors, have been excluded from collaborative and co-operative working!
“What deals have the Lib Dems struck to hang onto power? What is the cost of these deals? What impact will this have on the pockets of hard pressed residents?
“St Albans City and District Council is coming under considerable financial pressure with a series of poor Liberal Democrat decisions in the past year causing project delays and cost overruns of nearly £7 million.
“Neighbouring councils like Labour-run Stevenage Borough Council are saying they might be going “bankrupt”.
“It won’t take much more financial mismanagement to put us in a similar situation.”
In response, council leader Chris White said the Conservative Party was invited to nominate three councillors to join its new cross-party COVID-19 recovery group, to which it declined – on the grounds that it “did not understand the nature of the body”.
“This is the most recent example of when we’ve wanted to work cross-party, with this most important issue facing our community,” Cllr White said.
Councillor Maynard said she had since appointed two councillors to the group, and said she “informed officers of this, clearly Cllr White was not informed.”
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