Power struggles rumble on at Stockport Town Hall despite leadership vote

Labour may have clung on to power following a crunch vote of Stockport council last week – but the inter-party wrangling appears to be far from at an end.

Although the Lib Dems emerged from the local elections as the largest group, Labour refused to hand over the reins – arguing continuity was vital for the borough’s post-Covid recovery.

The issue was ultimately decided at an ‘informal council’ meeting last week, where the eight-strong Tory group backed Labour remaining at the helm.

The result was branded a ‘grubby stitch-up’ by Lib Dem chief Coun Mark Hunter.

Now the group has been further incensed after it emerged Labour was supporting a Tory bid to take control of two scrutiny committees they currently chair.

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Arrangements for scrutiny were due to be rubber-stamped at Tuesday’s annual council meeting – a largely ceremonial occasion where new mayor Coun Adrian Nottingham was sworn in.

To avoid dragging political disputes into the mayor-making, a further meeting has now been convened for Thursday night in order to settle the matter.

Labour and the Tories say they, together with the Independent Ratepayers group, have all come to an agreement on how committees should work next year.

But the Lib Dems have slammed the proposal, arguing the Tories’ vote to keep Labour at the helm means they would effectively be scrutinising matters they already agreed with.

Coun Hunter said: “This really is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ politics and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

“In the interests of openness, transparency and accountability Liberal Democrats will oppose these moves and take every opportunity to expose this Conservative-backed Labour administration for the unholy alliance at the town hall it is.

“We will be proposing that the chairs of scrutiny remain firmly in opposition hands – the number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat seats on the council remains exactly the same as last year, so there is no justification whatsoever for this proposed change.”

But Conservative leader Mike Hurleston says his group has every right to take on to chair two scrutiny committees as the Tories vote share went up by 6pc in 2021, while the Lib Dems fell by 4pc.

“We have asked to chair two scrutiny committee and for the Lib Dems to keep three,” he said.

“They want to keep all five, so we are obviously not going to agree to that. We want to get our voices heard. The others can see that, so it is what it is.”

The Tories want to chair the economy and regeneration scrutiny committee as well as corporate, resource management and governance.

Coun Hurleston says the matter is ‘not about political argument, it’s about arithmetic’.

Councillor Mark Hunter, leader of Stockport Lib Dem group

But he believes Thursday’s vote may hinge on how many councillors each group is able to send along – as only ‘in person’ meetings are now allowed by law.

Labour council leader Elise Wilson has defended the proposed change to arrangements – stressing that it is ‘important that all parties are represented at scrutiny’.

She said: “A proposal was put forward by opposition groups which was accepted by the majority.

“As part of those proposals Labour was more than happy to compromise and offer the Green Party member one of our scrutiny seats so that our Labour administration can be held to account in the interests of all residents.

Coun Mike Hurleston retained control of Bramhall South and Woodford last week at Stockport local elections and has now become Stockport Tory leader
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

“I hope common sense will prevail and the opposition groups can come to an agreement so we can turn our focus onto our recovery from Covid and making Stockport a better place to live.”

The Lib Dems were given the chair of all five scrutiny committees after drawing level with Labour at the 2019 local elections.

And they say that any changes to these arrangements should have been brought to last week’s informal council meeting

“The very purpose of that meeting was to resolve any matters which may cause disagreement at the Annual Council Meeting,” said Coun Hunter.

“To try to push these controversial proposals through at this late stage is simply unconstitutional.”

Thursday’s meeting will essentially be an adjournment of four items from the annual council meeting.

These also include appointments to area committees, working parties and council representation on outside bodies.

It will take place at Stockport Town Hall at 6pm.

The proceedings will be webcast.

MEN – Stockport