As Labour prepares to mount a strong challenge to Tory rulers on Cheshire West and Chester Council, David Norbury analyses the new political make-up in the corridors of power at Chester HQ
REJUVENATED opposition activists are taking their fight to top Tories in Cheshire West and Chester.
Bouncing back from a miserable two years which saw them with just 13 seats on the Conservative controlled council, re-elected Labour leader Cllr Derek Bateman (Ellesmere Port Town) and his 32 strong group have already given notice they intend to make a difference.
Only weeks ago Labour councillors stormed out of a full council meeting complaining they were not being heard.
Following spectacular gains in Cheshire West and Chester’s local government elections earlier this month, the opposition has already:
Opposed the re-election of council leader Cllr Mike Jones (Con, Tattenhall)
Set up a powerful opposition executive to lead Labour’s challenge to Tory policies
Opposed the possibility of subsidised transport to church schools and colleges being scrapped.
“May's election result was the biggest set of Labour gains for a unitary authority anywhere in the country,” claimed Cllr Bateman.
“With a Labour group nearly trebled in size, we are ready to challenge the Tories with determination and rigour.
“ We intend to exert pressure through the council's policy development boards, committees and panels to address the manifesto commitments we made during the election.
“If the Tory Leader, Cllr Mike Jones, thinks it'll be business as usual, he's got 32 reasons to think again."
Back in power as leader on a 38-31 vote until 2015 with the second term he always sought to build the new council, Cllr Jones says: “It was inevitable there would be some reaction to the Government’s highly necessary, but painful, cuts and we expected to lose some seats in marginal wards.
“However, I believe the fact that we have retained control of the council is a reflection of public recognition of our priorities to restore Chester to its rightful place as an international visitor centre and to regenerate both Ellesmere Port and Northwich.”
His deputy, Cllr Les Ford (Con, Helsby), who is also the Conservative resources guru, continues as does opposite number Ellesmere Port councillor Pat Merrick re-elected as deputy leader of the Labour opposition.
Retaining their executive roles are councillors Brenda Dowding (Parkgate) adult services, Lynn Riley (Frodsham) community and environment, Les Ford (resources) and Mid Cheshire councillor Herbert Manley (prosperity).
Cllr Stuart Parker (Con, Chester Villages) takes over culture and recreation from former Cllr Richard Short, who lost the Little Neston and Burton seat he contested to the Labour Party.
Mid Cheshire councillor Mark Stocks (Con) has been appointed executive member for education and children, a role previously held by former Cllr Arthur Harada who did not seek re-election.
Cllr Dowding will find her policies challenged by Cllr Alex Tate (Lache) who will lead on adult services in the Labour executive.
Former county councillor David Robinson will face Cllr Riley on environment and community while Cllr Ford will be opposed by Labour resources spokesman Cllr Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port Town).
Outspoken Blacon councillor Reggie Jones, promoting Labour’s approach to prosperity and regeneration will find himself up against incumbent Tory Cllr Manley while newly elected executive member Cllr Stuart Parker will be shadowed by Ellesmere Port councillor Angela Claydon as he gets to grips with issues including Chester’s new theatre and leisure facilities across the borough.
Newly appointed education and children chief Cllr Stocks leaves behind future planning for the borough and will be closely watched by deputy Labour leader Cllr Merrick who has already made her views on school and college transport clear.
Running the council with a new slimline majority of just nine, down from 38, Cllr Jones is facing up to the loss of a trusted lieutenant, former Cllr George Miller who had served as his chief whip but lost to Labour when his mid Cheshire seat was targeted by Labour.
Cllr Jones has turned to Dodleston and Huntington councillor Mark Williams to enforce group discipline while Labour has re-elected Ellesmere Port councillor Paul Donovan as its whip.
He will be assisted by newly elected Garden Quarter councillor Bob Rudd, who has a heavyweight career in local government and was a key political strategist in former Chester MP Christine Russell’s office.
Familiar faces returning to council life after losing out in the first elections to the new council or seeking pastures new include Cllrs Rudd and Robinson from the city and county councils respectively, former city councillor Alex Black (Lab, Hoole), long standing Ellesmere Port councillor Keith Butcher (Lab), former Ellesmere Port councillor Mark Henesy (Lab), Labour’s Brian Jones who served on Ellesmere Port borough and Cheshire County councils, Conservative county councillor Eveleigh Moore-Dutton (Tarporley), former city council Tory leader Margaret Parker (Chester Villages) and city council Conservative Neil Sullivan (Handbridge Park).