All change on council

SOUTH Gloucestershire Council has new leadership, after the Conservatives lost their majority at the local elections.

The council’s Liberal Democrat and Labour groups, both of which made gains at the Tories’ expense on May 4, have agreed to work together to form a new administration.

Liberal Democrat group leader Claire Young is the new council leader, while Staple Hill & Mangotsfield ward councillor Ian Boulton will be the council’s co-leader, having taken over as the Labour group’s leader following the elections.

Announcing the partnership deal two weeks after the elections that ended eight years of Tory control of the authority, they set out a series of priorities for the new administration.

They include:

• A shared focus on the climate emergency and helping residents with the cost-of-living crisis.

• A review of how the council makes policy, including local decision-making and more public involvement.

• Sharing the council’s seat at the West of England Combined Authority, and working to improve local buses and the travel network.

The two groups spent a fortnight ironing out details of a deal following the elections which saw the Tories lose their overall majority.

While they are still the largest party, with 23 seats in the chamber, the 20 Lib Dem and 17 Labour members combined take the two parties above the 31 votes needed to command a majority in the chamber.

The Tories lost ten seats at the elections, including one in Frenchay & Downend ward and two in Emersons Green locally.

The Lib Dems gained three, including their first in Frenchay & Downend, while Labour gained six overall, including two in Emersons Green.

There was also one independent gain in the elections, at Labour’s expense.  

After signing the written agreement to form an administration, Cllr Young said: “People voted for change in May, following eight years of Conservative rule.

“In discussions with the Labour group it was apparent we had many shared goals to improve the lives of local people.

“We want to take the council in a different direction, working with local people to make South Gloucestershire a better place for everyone. 

Cllr Boulton said: “This is a brilliant opportunity to put forward a new vision for South Gloucestershire.

“We’re aware of the budgetary challenges at the moment, with the Conservative government failing to fund local authorities properly.

“That can change at next year’s general election.”

Cllr Boulton took over as Labour group leader following the retirement of predecessor Pat Rooney at the elections.

Cabinet members for the new administration were due to be announced following the council’s annual meeting when the new leadership was being confirmed on May 24.

Since the elections, the political groups have been holding discussions while day-to-day running of and decision-making for the authority has been managed by senior officers and managers.

Council chief executive Dave Perry said: “The role of officers during this period has been to ensure that the council continues to operate as it should, while supporting members in their conversations, providing, where required, legal and constitutional advice. Council officers are ready to brief a new administration once it is agreed by Members at the meeting on 24 May and when a new Cabinet takes up their roles.”

The new Conservative group leader Sam Bromiley criticised the other parties for not involving his group in discussions on the future leadership of the authority.

The former cabinet member for children and young people, who took over as Tory group leader after former council leader Toby Savage stood down at the elections, said: “We are disappointed that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have chosen to exclude the largest party from all discussions on how to run the council.

“On several occasions we have offered to meet to discuss how all residents’ views can be reflected in the new council, but each time this was met by silence.” 

Cllr Young said voters had clearly “had enough of the Conservatives”, while Cllr Boulton said voters were “holding the Conservative party to account for the disastrous policies they have imposed on us — both locally and nationally”.

Toby Savage said his party did better locally than on a national level, where it lost more than 1,000 seats, despite losing its majority in the district on a “disappointing evening”.

He said: “I’m encouraged that a number of colleagues have been returned in wards that might well have fallen to the opposition parties were they to be tracking the national position, which suggests that South Gloucestershire Conservatives are outperforming the Conservatives nationally.”

Frenchay & Downend councillor Liz Brennan is the new Conservative deputy group leader for the now opposition party. Cllr Brennan kept her council seat by just five votes in May’s election, finishing ahead of nearest Lib Dem challenger David Eldridge after a recount.