Lib Dems reject challenge to take over council leadership

Woking Lib Dem Leader Anne-Marie Barker rejected the Conservative challenge to take over leadership of Woking Council

THE Liberal Democrats have rejected a challenge by the ruling Conservatives to take over leadership of Woking Borough Council after last week’s local election results.

The Conservatives now have 13 councillors, the Lib Dems 12, Labour three and the Independents two.

Ayesha Azad, who took over as Tory group and council leader seven months ago, said it was time for the opposition to step up; to take control of the executive committee and council companies and implement the manifesto on which they had been elected.

“The message from voters is clear,” Cllr Azad said. “They want to see change and I do not want to try to stand in the way of that. The opposition shouldn’t either.

“I became leader of the council in October and since then I’ve changed the council’s course away from expensive projects and development deals towards resident engagement and openness and transparency.

“But I accept we’ve not been able to do enough in that time to convince people. That’s our failure; not theirs and I am quite clear on that.”

Ann-Marie Barker, the Lib Dem leader, said she was not surprised by Cllr Azad’s approach.

“There’s quite a lot of mess to clear up such as the overspend on Victoria Square,” Cllr Barker said.

“An awful lot of borrowing has been done and the car parking revenue is going to be massively down.”

She said there was likely to be a lot of disruption from the Victoria Arch widening project.

“Cllr Azad may feel this is a good opportunity to butt things over to us and abscond responsibility, hoping to take back control next year [after the next local elections in May].”

Current council leader Ayesha Azad

Cllr Barker said there was a similar situation in 2006/07 when the Lib Dems ran the council for about a year.

“When issues came up, they threw everything at us. They are very different in opposition than when they are in control,” Cllr Barker said.

She said that the Tories should continue to lead the council as the largest party.

“It is very difficult to do it as a minority group. We have a good relationship with Labour and the Independents but there are areas where we don’t agree, and it would be difficult to pull that together in a short time.”

Cllr Barker said the Lib Dems have been progressing at elections over the past three years and hoped to become the largest group at the local elections next year.

Cllr Azad reiterated that the Lib Dems should take the chance to deliver the pledges they made during the election campaign – but if they were not willing to lead the council, she was willing to go into a coalition leadership.

Cllr Barker said the Lib Dems have previously rejected similar offers, including approaches to individual members of the group to sit on the council executive.

“This is something I will need to discuss with other members of the group. Our past approach is likely to be the same in future,” she said.

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