Southend-on-Sea BC is likely to leave the Local Government Association as part of a Conservative deal with Ukip to regain control of the council.
The council had been run by a ‘rainbow coalition’ of Labour, Lib Dem and independent councillors since 2014. Two Lib Dems lost their seats to the Conservatives in last week’s elections, giving the Tories 24 seats on the council.
This left the council in no overall control but weakened the coalition. The Conservatives have now struck a deal with the two Ukip members to form a “confidence and supply” arrangement, making Conservative control possible – but only on the condition that Southend leaves the LGA.
Floyd Waterworth (Ukip) told LGC: “[Leaving the LGA] is a cost-saving measure. We have to give a year’s notice, so that will be given in time for March 2017, and membership will come to an end in March 2018.”
When asked if he believed leaving the association would have any drawbacks, Cllr Waterworth said: “I can’t think of any.”
The Evening Echo reports that this will save the council £65,000 per year in membership fees.
Cllr Waterworth said the Conservatives had agreed to a number of other conditions. The previous administration had planned to buy commercial property within Southend, funded through £6m of borrowing, from which to derive long-term income. This will now not go ahead without Ukip’s approval, Cllr Waterworth said. Ukip also has an effective veto on any further spending on the development of a new museum on Southend’s seafront, or redevelopment of the A127 junction, on a main route from the town to the M25.
Cllr Ian Gilbert (Lab), the outgoing deputy leader, criticised the decision to leave the LGA.
“The council gains an awful lot in terms of advice and expertise from membership the LGA,” he told LGC.
“Just as importantly, the LGA is a strong and respected voice for councils and local democracy to government, and undertakes negotiation on everything ranging from business rate retention to the resettlement of refugees. Weakening the LGA by withdrawing from it means weakening our case to central government. Local authorities have shown that we can be more innovative, more efficient and more accountable deliverers of services than Whitehall, and have worked miracles in coping with government imposed cuts.”
On the plan to halt the commercial property purchase, Cllr Gilbert said: “Southend has rather fewer income-generating assets than other councils, following Tory sell-offs many years ago. We were hoping to build a portfolio of assets that would generate income that could support revenue spending on good quality services. A number of councils have done this successfully, and if this is halted we are missing out on an opportunity to mitigate the effect of further government cuts.
“I have seen no evidence that the two Ukip members involved have the slightest understanding of local government finance, and I seriously worry about them being given a veto over any element of the council budget.”
John Lamb, leader of the Southend Conservative group, is poised to become leader. LGC has contacted him for comment.
Southend-on-Sea BC’s election results
The Conservative Party 24 (+2)
Green Party 0 (0)
Independent 10 (-1)
The Labour Party 10 (+1)
Liberal Democrats 2 (-2)
Southend Independence Party 3 (0)
UKIP 2 (0)