Power vacuum over as councillors unite after tragedy

LABOUR big beast David Sheard returned as Kirklees Council leader on Wednesday amid tributes to Jo Cox.

Councillors put the politicking which has caused six weeks of paralysis to one side in a refreshingly brief Huddersfield Town Hall debate.

In doing so it was revealed the cabinet will be axed in favour of a committee system of governance.

About five minutes of action came after tributes, some emotional, some witty, to murdered MP Mrs Cox.

Councillors including Paul Kane (Lab, Dewsbury East), Coun Masood Ahmed (Lab, Dewsbury South) and Coun John Lawson (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton) spoke.

Coun Gwen Lowe (Lab, Batley West) said she had been due to spend time with the Cox family at their houseboat in London that weekend.

Former Tory leader Coun Robert Light came close to tears in stating his belief that Birstall “will be in shock for a long time to come”.

He also paid tribute to Birstall Library workers, saying their lives would never be the same.

Coun Light (Con, Birstall and Birkenshaw) recalled first meeting Mrs Cox on general election night in May 2015.

She bounded over, full of enthusiasm, addressed him as “Hi Rob!” and then held him and a Tory campaigner in rapt conversation.

He said: “It was one of the most disarming moments – and it was automatically clear we’d be able to do business beyond the political divide.

“And when we got back to the car my colleague asked if he could change his vote. That was the measure of the impact she had on people.”

He added: “We must make sure the events of June 16 change our world for the better and change our politics for the better.”

Labour had already put forward Coun Sheard and Coun Shabir Pandor as  “unity” candidates.

The weeks up to Mrs Cox’s death had seen in-fighting amid an alleged Labour coup which toppled Coun Sheard.

Coun Sheard (Lab, Heckmondwike) and Coun Pandor (Lab, Batley West) put aside differences in favour of party and council unity.

Beforehand they said jointly: “Since the annual council just a few weeks ago unforeseen events both locally and nationally have shocked and appalled us.”

They added “whatever has gone before between us is resolved” and Labour would now come together.

But to make sure all councillors got the message Mayor and former army major Coun Jim Dodds gave them a stern warning.

He said: “I feel we can’t go another six weeks without a leader of the council in light of the current situation.”

Coun Dodds said the debate would therefore go on for as long as necessary to elect a council leader.

But within minutes and with little fuss it was all over, with Coun Sheard as leader and Coun Pandor as deputy leader. Tories voted against but promised constructive opposition given that no party has a majority.

Group leader Coun David Hall (Liversedge and Gomersal) said: “I will lead a robust opposition that will hold the administration to account.

“We will criticise where we feel it is necessary, but we will also work with them where we think we can do business.”

Coun Lawson said: “This impasse threatened to cause serious damage to the council.

“Not only day-to-day running, but also in the budget going forward. We’re glad to see what’s on offer is a period of stability.”

Coun Sheard vowed to change the way the council works to involve elected members more.

It follows claims the coup was partly inspired by unhappiness with the cabinet system - that some councillors felt left out of decision making.

Coun Sheard said: “I don’t think anyone here is unaware of the difficulties we are facing as a council.

“I’m also sure that everyone in the chamber wants to do the best they can with the resources we’ve got.

“And we’ve got to be aware that one of the most powerful resources we’ve got are the 69 councillors in this chamber. I want to tap into that resource.”

He added: “We had the cabinet system imposed on us. But now we have more freedom.”

Cabinet appointments are to follow, though there will be changes as two from the last administration were voted in to lead other functions.

Coun Cathy Scott (Lab, Dewsbury East) is the new licensing panel chairman while Coun Steve Hall (Lab, Heckmondwike) becomes chairman of the Strategic Planning Committee.

 

Kirklees Council cabinet portfolios are as follows:



 

Coun David Sheard (Leader) and Cllr Pandor (Deputy Leader): Strategy and Strategic Resources, New Council and Regional issues.

Coun Masood Ahmed: Community Cohesion and Schools

Coun Erin Hill: Family Support & Child Protection (Statutory Responsibility for Children)

Coun Viv Kendrick: Adults, Health & Activity to Improve Health (Statutory Responsibility of Adults & Public Health)

Coun Musarrat Khan: Highways and Neighbourhoods

Coun Naheed Mather: Housing and Enforcement Management

Coun Peter McBride: Economy, Skills, Transportation and Planning

Coun Graham Turner: Asset Strategy, Resources & Creative Kirklees (Arts)

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