Conservatives and Independents hold power at Mid Suffolk by casting vote as new chairman adopted
PUBLISHED: 09:22 25 September 2020 | UPDATED: 10:50 25 September 2020
Conservatives and Independents at a deadlocked Suffolk authority have narrowly held on to power for another year thanks to a casting vote – a key position which could dictate decision making in the district.
Mid Suffolk District Council was left politically split following last year’s local elections, with 16 Conservatives and one Independent uniting in one group and the 12 Greens and five Liberal Democrats forging an alliance in opposition.
A Conservative/Independent administration was formed last May, secured on the council chairman’s casting vote.
MORE: New council leader approved by casting vote
At Thursday night’s annual meeting, the council’s new chairman, Conservative Barry Humphreys, was elected to the position on the outgoing chairman’s casting vote, against the Green/Lib Dem nomination of Penny Otton.
The chairman role has been a key position at the split council, as it means that their casting vote can pass deadlocked decisions at full council.
Conservative council leader Suzie Morley said: “While I fully respect the capabilities of Councillor Otton from the opposition group to be our chairman we firmly believe it is not in the best interest of the council, Mid Suffolk or our residents to create a scenario where the Conservative and Independent group’s aspirations and objectives, which have already been agreed by council, could be thwarted by the casting vote of the chairman of the council.
“As the opposition group are also well aware, this would in effect mean the Conservative and Independent group surrendering the leadership and administration of the council to the Green and Liberal Democrat group, which is clearly something no politician of any colour is ever going to willingly do.
“It is also more important than ever with the challenges our council and communities face as a result of Covid-19 that we are able to provide consistent and stable leadership.”
The annual meeting was meant to be held in May, but the coronavirus pandemic has delayed this year’s meeting, held virtually to maintain safety.
Mr Humphreys said: “One should never forget the reason we became councillors – it was, and is, to serve and represent our communities irrespective of political persuasion or alliance without fear or favour.
“As the chair of this council I will strive to uphold that statement and be fair and open minded as was my predecessor, Councillor [Lavinia} Hadingham.”
Mr Humphreys has selected Stowmarket Dementia Action Group as his chosen charity for the chairman’s fundraising activities.
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Outgoing chairman Lavinia Hadingham has been appointed to Mid Suffolk’s cabinet with responsibility for housing.
Rachel Eburne, leader of the Green and Lib Dem group, said: “Councillor Otton has been a district councillor for 29 years – she is a valued member of both the council and her community.
“We used to have a tradition at Mid Suffolk of the chairs being long-standing councillors regardless of political persuasion, as befits a non-political role.
“Many of the previous chairs were particularly long-standing councillors.
MORE: Mid Suffolk Council split following 2019 local elections
“More recently, this tradition seemed to have fallen away and I think it is a shame that this has happened, and would be good to get back to it.
“To vote in long-standing councillors with the experience and gravitas that this role requires would be really beneficial to the council. Councillor Otton would be an excellent chair as someone with great experience of the council in all its roles.”
Following her year as chairman of Mid Suffolk District Council, Lavinia Hadingham has presented £1,244.78 from her fundraising efforts to charity.
The money was raised for Home-Start Mid and West Suffolk, with events including a Christmas civic service and a hog roast afternoon.
She said: “My extended year as chairman has been both an interesting and a demanding one, particularly with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have seen our communities rally together to support each other and go the extra mile.
“I have been thrilled with the support for the fundraising events I hosted last year.
“I may not have been able to host as many events as I had hoped, but to have raised over £1,000 is a great testimony to the support I received for my year as chairman, and more deservedly the hard work of Home-Start.”
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