DAVID Bittleston has survived as leader of Woking Borough Council despite losing a motion of no confidence amid an angry exchange of words between the ruling Conservatives and opposition groups.
The council has been politically unsettled since the local elections in May when it officially went into No Overall Control, with no single group enjoying a majority of councillors. However, the Conservatives retain all seats on the executive as they are the biggest group, with 14 councillors, while the Liberal Democrats have 10 and the Labour Party and Independents three each.
Since the local elections, the opposition groups have been agitating to remove Cllr Bittleston but have failed to find a way of achieving this.
The Lib Dems were hoping that a Conservative councillor would be willing to replace the leader and a motion of no confidence was scheduled for last Wednesday.
However, it appears that the suggested alternative leader was not prepared to stand and the Lib Dems abstained from voting in the motion, as did all the Conservative councillors.
The motion was passed by six votes to nil and Cllr Bittleston offered to resign if opposition groups proposed an alternative leader by noon on Monday this week. No such proposal was made, leading the Conservatives to accuse the “political alliance” of getting cold feet.
Cllr Bittleston said: “To no-one’s surprise, when they realised that actual work and responsibility for taking often difficult decisions was involved, none of them wanted to take over from us. “I hope now that we can continue to run the business of the council for the rest of the year without these continual whispers of motions of no confidence. The political alliance really has had the chance to step up and has shown on three occasions its unwillingness to do so.”
Ann-Marie Barker, the Lib Dem leader, countered by saying that not a single Conservatives supported their own leader during the no confidence vote.
“The vote was never about changing the party that runs the council. It was only about changing the leader. Cllr Bittleston deliberately misinterpreted the no confidence motion and still has the arrogance to stay despite not even his own group supporting him.”
Cllr Barker said she was looking to work closely with the other opposition groups and there was a possibility of replacing the executive with a committee system in which the leader would have less power than at present.
Labour and the Independents both criticised council officials with Labour leader Mohammed Ali saying a short council statement on the matter was biased, while Independents’ leader John Bond accused council chief executive Ray Morgan of exaggerating the impact removing the council’s leader would have.
For the full story get the 1 August edition of the News & Mail