North Herts Labour and Lib Dem councillors form coalition as Tories ousted

PUBLISHED: 18:32 22 May 2019

Martin Stears-Handscomb was elected as the council leader for North Herts District Council. Picture: Helen Oliver

Martin Stears-Handscomb was elected as the council leader for North Herts District Council. Picture: Helen Oliver

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Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors in North Herts teamed up on yesterday evening to form a coalition administration - with no Conservative representation on a new-look executive team.

North Herts District Council met for the first time since May's local elections, with Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors teaming up to form a join administration with a new leader at the helm. Picture: Alan MillardNorth Herts District Council met for the first time since May's local elections, with Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors teaming up to form a join administration with a new leader at the helm. Picture: Alan Millard

Martin Stears-Handscomb's unopposed nomination for leadership saw the Labour councillor become the head of a new 'joint adminsitration' at North Herts District Council which aims to work alongside councillors of all parties.

It is the first time since 1999 that the Conservatives have not had control of the council, with Labour and the Lib Dems' combined total of 27 greater than the Tories' 22.

Speaking at the full council meeting, Councillor Stears-Handscomb said: "The people of North Herts deserve big improvements in their local council. We can achieve that, despite deep cuts from above, but only with a more practical, honest approach. There's no change without real change.

"Working together, your local Labour and Liberal Democrats have a shared commitment to deliver much needed action for our community through a joint administration.

North Herts District Council met for the first time since May's local elections, with Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors teaming up to form a join administration with a new leader at the helm. Picture: Alan MillardNorth Herts District Council met for the first time since May's local elections, with Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors teaming up to form a join administration with a new leader at the helm. Picture: Alan Millard

"You'll quickly see changes, with a sharp shift towards a more open and co-operative council, which listens to people - to residents, hard working staff and elected councillors.

"We're starting as we mean to go on, for example tonight full council heard Extinction Rebellion present their petition as we propose a motion to declare a climate emergency and call for action on this important issue.

"We look forward to working together to strengthen our council, empower local communities and build stronger relationships.

"It's a great honour to be elected as leader of the council.

Martin Stears-Handscomb was elected as the council leader for North Herts District Council. Picture: Helen OliverMartin Stears-Handscomb was elected as the council leader for North Herts District Council. Picture: Helen Oliver

"I thank Councillor David Levett [Conservative group leader] for his willingness to encourage cross party working."

The change of leadership comes after the former council leader, Conservative's Lynda Needham, lost her seat for Letchworth South West in this month's local elections.

After a draw with Liberal Democrat candidate Sean Prendergast at 800 votes each, the pair drew lots for the seat, which went to the Lib Dem as a result.

Newly elected leader of North Herts Conservatives David Levett spoke fondly of Mrs Needham at the meeting.

He said: "I want to personally thank all the people who stood in the elections, and most of all those who lost their seats. Lynda in particular is a great loss to us. I have great respect and admiration for her and what she's done for this council. Lynda, thank you from us all for everything you have done."

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Councillor Levett's sentiments were echoed Martin Stears-Handscomb and Liberal Democrat leader Paul Clark.

Mr Stears-Handscomb said: "I'd like to say thank you to Lynda for all her years of service. We don't always agree politically, but she would always listen and talk so we could understand each others point of view, and that's very important."

Unprecedented during annual council meetings, attention turned to guest speakers from the Letchworth Extinction Rebellion group as well as a member from the Green Party.

The group was there in support of a motion to declare a state of climate emergency.

The motion was supported by 43 to 44 councillors, with one abstaining.

Last night's meeting also saw the council elect and appoint its chairman, vice-chairman, deputy leader, cabinet members, committee members, chairmen and vice-chairmen for committees for 2019/2020,

Former deputy chairman Jean Green is new council chairman of the council, while Terry Tyler was appointed vice-chairman.

Labour and Lib Dem cabinet members are:

· Executive Member for Planning and Transport - Councillor Paul Clark (Lib Dem)

· Executive Member for Finance and IT - Councillor Ian Albert (Lab)

· Executive Member for Community Engagement - Councillor Judi Billing (Lab)

· Executive Member for Enterprise and Co-operative Development - Councillor Keith Hoskins (Lib Dem)

· Executive Member for Recycling and Waste Management - Councillor Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg (Lab)

· Executive Member for Environment and Leisure - Councillor Steve Jarvis (Lib Dem)

· Executive Member for Housing and Environmental Health - Councillor Gary Grindal (Lab).

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