South Ribble Tories bid to retake control of council

Cllr Margaret Smith resigned as leader in 2016 - she could be reappointed next week.
Cllr Margaret Smith resigned as leader in 2016 - she could be reappointed next week.
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South Ribble Borough Council could have its second change of leader in less than three weeks – if a new bid for the top job is successful.

An extraordinary meeting of the authority has been arranged for 1st November, at which members will vote on a call for the Conservative former leader Margaret Smith to be reinstated to the post.

READ MORE >>> Labour takes over at Conservative-majority authority

That would see the removal of Labour’s Paul Foster who has been leading the borough since 15th October. He was installed at another specially-convened meeting following the resignation of Mary Green, who had been running the authority since April.

READ MORE >>> Mary Green resigns before vote of no confidence

But nine Conservatives did not attend that debate, meaning the group had insufficient numbers to block the appointment of the Labour leader. It led to the unusual scenario of a Conservative-majority council being taken over by a Labour cabinet.

The motion due to be debated next week states: “Since the Conservative group hold[s] the majority of seats on the Council, it is asserted that the administration of the council should be formed wholly of Conservative members.”

Margaret Smith resigned as leader in July 2016 due to ill health after nine years in the role. She was in charge at the authority when it was criticised for a series of failings in its taxi licensing department.

Four resignations from the ruling Tory group in advance of her departure left the council in no overall control at the time. Three of those four councillors are still members of the authority and all now sit as part of the Conservative group once again.

Cllr Smith stood for the job of Conservative leader when it became vacant earlier this year, but was defeated in a head-to-head contest with Mary Green. The Tory group elected Cllr Smith to lead the party in the borough at a meeting last weekend.

Cllr Smith and the proposer of next week’s motion, Cllr Colin Clark, have both been approached for comment. Cllr Graham Walton, who has seconded the motion, said it would be “incorrect” to make a comment in advance of the meeting.

Current leader of the authority, Paul Foster, has also been contacted for comment.

There have been five different leaders of South Ribble Borough Council in just over two years.