Labour has officially taken control of South Ribble Borough Council after Paul Foster was elected as the authority’s leader.
The group became the largest on the council following local elections earlier this month, but no party has an overall majority.
The Labour leader took the top job after agreeing a deal with the Liberal Democrats to secure their support on an issue-by-issue basis. It is only the second time in the borough’s 45-year history that it has had a Labour-led administration, the last being the four years from 1995.
“We said we’d bring stability and leadership to this council – and we will,” Cllr Foster told a meeting of the full council.
“We said we’d sort out the air quality in this borough, stand shoulder to shoulder with the residents around [the proposed development at] Pickering's Farm and make South Ribble a fairer, safer, happier and healthier place for all of our communities – and we most certainly will.”
The new leader also promised council staff "a fresh start" and unveiled a new cabinet post with responsibility for community engagement and social justice.
But another change brought controversy at what is normally a perfunctory meeting setting out the practical arrangements for the year ahead.
The boundaries of the authority’s “My Neighbourhood” forums, which deal with local issues, will be redrawn. One of the areas, known as Central, will be disbanded and its two Farington wards brought into the Leyland group.
The Conservative opposition lined up to criticise some aspects of the overhaul – and the way in which was done. The necessary changes to the council’s constitution are to be made by delegating authority to the legal monitoring officer.
Former chair of the council’s governance committee, Alan Ogilvie, said that the forum was being bypassed when it should expect to have a central role in such a change.
“It was only five months ago this council voted to change the terms of reference of the governance committee to confirm its pivotal role in guarding the constitution,” he said.
“After all that hard work, the very first time this new administration makes a judgement on a change to the constitution, it chooses to ignore that hard-fought principle,” Coun Ogilvie said.
Former cabinet member Colin Clark condemned Coun Foster for “persistently pontificating” on the constitution when in opposition and now putting forward proposals which were “hypocritical”.
And Farington East councillor Paul Wharton said that claiming Farington is part of Leyland is like saying “Penwortham is part of Preston”.
The changes to the neighbourhood areas were approved and a full review of the system will be carried out at a later date.
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Foster said the boundary changes were “a must”, because the previous arrangements didn’t work.
“The operation of the new areas will now be subject to much deliberation. The real issue was that we could make the changes – that is what the Conservatives are struggling to deal with,” Coun Foster said.
NEW CABINET LINE-UP
The Labour cabinet comprises:
Paul Foster - Leader of the Council
Mick Titherington - Deputy Leader of the Council and portfolio holder for Health, Wellbeing and Leisure
Matthew Tomlinson - Finance, Property and Assets
Susan Jones - Environment
Bill Evans - Planning, Regeneration and City Deal
Aniela Bylinski Gelder - Community Engagement, Social Justice and Wealth Building