Cllr David Bittleston

THE Liberal Democrats have turned down an offer from Woking’s ruling Conservatives to have seats on the borough council’s executive.

Council leader David Bittleston invited two opposition councillors to join the committee after winning a confidence vote at a special meeting last week.

Council Leader Cllr David Bittleston

But Lib Dem councillors Ken Howard and Ian Johnson have declined to sit with the Tories on the council’s main decision-making body.

Cllr Bittleston faced the confidence vote – proposed by his party – at a meeting of councillors described by the Lib Dem group leader as an “absolute joke”.

The leader of a minority administration, he made his offer of executive places after 13 Conservatives voted in support of his leadership, with two Independents voting against and 13 Lib Dem and Labour councillors abstaining.

Lib-Dem group leader Cllr Ann-Marie Barker called the most recent confidence vote “an absolute joke”

Cllr Howard, who was offered a climate change responsibility on the executive, said this week: “It could be quite difficult being an opposition member of a Tory executive when it takes decisions I don’t agree with. There doesn’t seem to be any advantage in it.

“I would like Woking to be taking a lead on climate change, but I can continue to pursue this as chairman of the climate change working group,” added the St John’s representative, who has been a councillor since 2000.

A meeting of the executive scheduled for last Thursday was cancelled in favour of a special debate prompted by Cllr Bittleston losing a Labour no-confidence motion in July. Lib Dem leader Ann-Marie Barker had followed up the lost vote by telling Cllr Bittleston he should have his status as leader of the council confirmed by the Conservative group.

However, it was ruled by council chief executive Ray Morgan that only the full council can confirm the leader.

For the full story get the 19 September edition of the News & Mail

A RESOUNDING all-party “no” was the verdict at last Thursday’s Woking Borough Council meeting in response to a recommendation by the executive committee to support RHS Wisley’s application for a grant of £100,000.

There was an impressive display of unity from councillors across the political spectrum in their unequivocal rejection of the proposal.

RHS Wisley requested a grant of £100,000

Only council leader David Bittleston supported the motion to approve the grant, with 24 voting against the motion and four abstentions.

First to speak in the debate was Liberal Democrat Will Forster.

“The Lib Dems and I do not support this application for a grant to RHS Wisley,” he said.

Cllr Forster said that, last year, Citizens Advice, Woking, got £38,000 less than the year before, and the local credit union asked for £18,000 in grants but got £12,000.

Cllr David Bittleston argued strongly in favour of approving the grant

“When the Meadow Sports Group in my ward, which supports young people getting physically active and having a healthy lifestyle, sought £15,000 funding, they secured just £4,000,” he said.

“When another organisation outside our borough, the Surrey Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, sought £25,000 for work they do in our area in a building inside our area, not outside, they didn’t get anything – not a penny,” added Cllr Forster.

Cllr Bittleston was vigorous in his support for the application. He said the RHS Wisley grant would not affect other revenue account grants, as it would come from the capital account.

“We already give significantly more – 10 times more in some cases – to local community groups than many other boroughs and districts,” he said.

“We are an exemplar and the RHS Wisley request would not be a revenue account spend.”

He added that the benefit of giving the money to RHS Wisley “would be enormous for the residents of the borough”.

For the full story get the 1 August edition of the News & Mail

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.

Council leader David Bittleston

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.”

Lib-Dem leader Anne-Marie Baker

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

A LEADING Conservative Woking borough councillor has joined the Liberal Democrats, less than a month before crucial local elections.

Graham Chrystie, who has represented Pyrford for eight years, accused David Bittleston, the council leader, of curtailing debate within the Conservative group and proceeding with projects which lacked transparency.

Cllr Graham Chrystie has accused the Conservative party in Woking of failing in transparency and openness

“The Conservative Party in Woking is failing on openness, proper consultation and financial disclosure,” said Cllr Chrystie. 

He added he was surprised that the Conservative administration seemed to be proud that Woking has borrowed more money than almost any other local authority in England. 

“I cannot in conscience remain a member of the Conservative Group,” Cllr Chrystie said.  “I now feel I can work more effectively for my ward residents and deliver what local people want, within the Liberal Democrat group, where I can operate within an established, harmonious and effective team.

“Residents have not been properly consulted on key decisions such as plans for a pub/restaurant on West Byfleet Recreation Ground, a site held by the borough only as a trustee for local residents.”

He will cross the floor for the final council meeting of the year this evening, effectively leaving the council under no overall control of any single group. The Conservatives will have 15 councillors, the Liberal Democrats nine and Labour and Independents three each.

For the full story get today’s (4 April) edition of the News & Mail