There is a new look administration in charge at North Kesteven District Council.
At the annual meeting of the council last night (Thursday) the re-elected Leader of the Council, Richard Wright, made the announcement that after much negotiation behind the scenes since the May local elections, from now on the Conservative group would no longer be known as such on NKDC.
Instead, the 20 Conservative members had signed up to the ‘NK Administration Group’, and Coun Wright said the group would be open to any other like-minded councillors wishing to work in partnership.
He announced his intention to work more inclusively with members of other groups on the council and praised unaligned councillors Steve Clegg and Chris Goldson who have been in talks over the last two weeks pushing for a more unified and collaborative council, instead of ‘tribal politics’.
Coun Wright said: “They brought us to the table and gave a very clear vision for a joint administration and we should applaud them for their efforts.
“All I said during that process was that we should have a more collegiate approach on the council and there was room for better working where people with experience and values were put into positions they could bring that where it mattered.”
He proceeded to ask unaligned councillor Steve Clegg and Lincolnshire Independent Mervyn Head to join his executive – both of whom agreed – in order to make his executive more inclusive. His deputy leader will be Conservative Lindsey Cawrey and fellow Tories Ian Carrington and Ray Cucksey will also be on the executive.
In keeping with the new spirit, nine out of the 22 positions for chairmen or vice-chairmen of committees or panels have been shared across the opposition councillors.
Following the elections, the council stood at 20 Conservatives, 16 Lincolnshire Independents and six independents. However, four independents (Councillors Bozena Allan, Anthony Brand, Kay Gilliland and David Suiter) were then swayed into an alliance with the Lincolnshire Independents – levelling the playing field.
Prior to the meeting, the Conservatives and the allied forces of the NK Independents, were almost equally matched and would have had 20 members each. But Coun Bozena Allan chose at the last minute to remain unaligned leaving it 20-19 in favour of the Conservatives, meaning there were three totally independent members on the sidelines holding what could be the deciding votes.
The Conservatives took the lead at the start of the night when Councillor Susan Waring was voted in as chairman over the Independent member of the NK Independent group, Coun Tony Brand with a vote of 22-19. It is the second time she has held the role.
Councillor Waring was then called on to cast a 21-21 tied vote for her chairman, choosing newly elected Conservative Councillor Susannah Barker-Milan over Independent Kay Gilliland.
Councillor Richard Wright was then voted in over Lincolnshire Independent Marianne Overton by a vote of 20-19 with the unaligned councillors all abstaining.
Coun Wright commented after the meeting that they had managed to put together an administration that is more collegiate.
He said after the discussions that had been going on, to stick to the name Conservative would not have been in the spirit of that collaboration. By forming the NK Administration group he welcomed others to work alongside them: “That wasn’t an empty gesture, that was the way forward for the council.
“It is about saying we are locally elected councillors, we are Conservatives and we are willing to work with people that are like minded regarding the policies and direction of the council.”
Looking to the future he added: “The idea of what we are doing is to take the conflict out of it. With the policies already in place and the emerging policies in place - there are some quite exciting projects in Sleaford - then it is about seeing them through to fruition.”
Commenting on the evening’s events, Leader of the NK Independent group, Coun Marianne Overton said she was thrilled with the result: “I am delighted that the whole vibrancy of so many new members, particularly some that have not come from any party political background to support their residents have really brought that through and it is really exciting and I am sure that will be put to good use for our communities.”
She admitted that if things had been fairer they would have divided up roles more evenly if voting members had known some of the skills her members had to offer, but she was confident that would change in future.
Coun Overton saw the new name of the NK Administration group as “an astonishing move”.
She said it was interesting that they did not want to wear the Conservative badge and was maybe an indication of what they heard on the doorsteps, as she had heard, that the party political process was not what people wanted, instead just wanting local people to do the best for the communities. She saw that had shone through at the meeting.
She said: “We have got some really well placed members who are going to make a really important impact to improve life in North Kesteven.”
As a new member on the council’s executive board, Coun Clegg reiterated that this was the culmination of his and Coun Chris Goldson’s efforts over days to bring the political groups to a joint administration.
He said: “We appear to be making progress but that didn’t quite materialise as fully as we hoped.”
He had hoped for a more evenly balanced executive board but that was not quite achieved.
Coun Clegg said: “I maintain my position as completely unaligned and my stance has been to not take sides and work with all the council.”
He insisted he had voted for chairmanships only based on skills and experience and felt it a shame that so many had to be decided by the chairman’s casting vote.
He believed Coun Wright’s wish to be more collaborative is sincere. “We all have to work together and the days of a controlling group have gone.”
Things may soon change, however, as a by-election will take place in Billinghay, Martin and North Kyme on June 13 to fill the one remaining vacancy on the council, which will see the numbers change again.
The candidates for the election have been announced as:
Tracey Giannasi – Lincolnshire Independent
Robert Greetham – Independent
Matt Newman – Labour
Amanda Sanderson – Conservative
Stephen Shanahan-Kluth – Independent
Garry Winterton – Liberal Democrat