The balance of power within North Kesteven District Council looks to be teetering on a knife edge as the two main political factions wrestle for overall power.
Two unaligned councillors in the middle of it all look likely to be ‘kingmakers’ when it comes to the future leadership of the authority, but they are keen to dispel ‘tribal’ politics in favour of a more collaborative working relationship in the future.
After the local elections on May 2 saw the controlling Conservative group’s number of seats pruned to 20, it was left as the largest party but with no overall majority in the 43-seat council.
In comparison, the Lincolnshire Independents made great gains, ending the night on 16 seats, with six more unaligned independent councillors likely to be pivotal in future decision making.
Coun Richard Wright, Leader of the Conservative group said at the time they would seek to continue to lead the authority, pointing to the fact his opposition was not one whole group.
However, The Standard understands approaches have been made by the Lincolnshire Independents towards unaligned members, attracting four of them into a working alliance. Two others - Councillors Chris Goldson (Skellingthorpe) and Steve Clegg (Ashby de la Launde and Cranwell) - have declared they wish to remain neutral.
Newly elected Independent Councillor for Sleaford Westholme, Anthony Brand told The Standard: “In cross group discussions a new group has been formed named NK Independents. The group has 20 members at this time. This means that at the (council) annual meeting next week (May 16) there will be two groups of 20 each.
“This means that overall control may well depend upon how these two members (Clegg and Goldson) vote. NK independents have indicated they are willing to form an administration with other like-minded councillors regardless of political alliance.”
Coun Brand also confirmed he had not been approached by the Conservative group.
He said a vision and policy statement is in the process of being produced by the NK Independent group.
Coun Marianne Overton, Leader of the Lincolnshire Independents group has been contacted by The Standard for an official comment on the proposed alliance, but is yet to respond.
Reacting to the developments, Coun Clegg told the Standard: “It’s disappointing that tribal politics prevails. We’re missing an opportunity to move away from that sorry state of affairs.
“Chris Goldson and I have had a number of ‘conversations’ with other councillors including those from the two political parties in NKDC. Consequently, we are even more determined that both political groups must sit down together, put their differences aside, and agree a way of working together for the benefit of our community.”
He warned: “Any attempt by either side to wrestle control from the other runs the very significant risk of producing a dysfunctional council. Other authorities in in the UK have established a consensus-based working relationship. Surely we can do the same.”
In a joint statement issued by Councillors Clegg and Goldson, they reinforced their position, saying: “People are tired and exasperated with the tribal nature of politics, and do not want it in their local government. We say this with absolute certainty, having both separately campaigned and been re-elected by at least 70 per cent of those voting, on a policy of being totally independent, and not aligned to any political groups.”
They said there is an opportunity to shift from a “combative/tribal approach in decision-making to a collaborative/consensus-based one”, which brings members together for a common purpose.
They said the challenge is getting groups to share power.
The pair add: “We strongly believe collaboration between councillors, irrespective of any political association, will deliver a refreshing and positive way for the district council to operate. Our council has on occasions been accused of not listening. We should use this opportunity to put that in the past, and to demonstrate a different way of working where councillors pull together for the benefit of the community as a whole.”
Coun Clegg said that since being unaligned it has been more straight-forward when working with members of any political persuasion.
He said: “Knocking on doors I have not found anyone happy with tribal politics in local government.
“It is going to be so finely balanced we are going to need to work together, which might mean knocking a few heads together to do it. Then the whole council will be perceived more positively by residents. Some of the more extreme elements may be tempered somewhat and it will be down to common sense.”
Another of the Independent councillors is Bozena Allan, newly elected member for Quarrington and Mareham ward in Sleaford.
She said: “In the circumstances of this sort of finely balanced numbers, there has been some discussions that it may be best to go for a non-party political administration that would be inclusive of all members and one that would use all the experiences and abilities available to deliver the best for NKDC, its services and for the residents.
“I would personally favour this sort of approach as the feedback that I got on the doorstep is that voters want their elected members to work together to sort problems and not to play at party politics.”
The picture may change again following the outcome of the upcoming by-election for Billinghay, Martin and North Kyme ward of North Kesteven District Council which will take place on Thursday, June 13.
The election has been called as this is a two member ward, but only one nomination form was submitted for the scheduled May 2 election held last week, therefore one seat remains vacant.
Nominations are now open, and anyone wanting to stand needs to submit their nomination papers by 4pm on Thursday, May 16.