Greens accept two posts in Labour-led cabinet

At the first meeting of Hastings Borough Council since the local elections, Labour party chief Cllr Paul Barnett was voted back last week as council leader by a “co-operative alliance” of Labour and Green councillors.

The outcome of those elections – loss of three Labour seats to the Greens – is that there are now 15 Labour councillors, 12 Conservatives and five Greens. A 12-year period of Labour domination is thus at an end. Although they still hold a majority, they need the support of one of the two other parties to form a stable administration. To the surprise of no-one, they have chosen to co-opt the Greens rather than the Conservatives for this role. 

Paul Barnett fronts his cabinet (missing Cllr Ali Roark)
CREDIT: Hastings Borough Council

Accordingly, out of eight posts in Cllr Barnett’s cabinet, two will be taken by Green councillors. Green leader Julia Hilton will be responsible for climate change responses and the natural environment; new councillor for Tressell ward, Glenn Haffenden will lead on the urban environment.

Labour reshuffle

There has also been a major reshuffle of posts within the Labour ranks. Cllr Andy Batsford, who has maintained a high profile for several years as lead member for housing has been switched to health and culture; Cllr Maya Evans becomes deputy leader and takes over responsibilities for housing and community development; Simon Willis, newly elected in Ore, inherits the finance role from retired councillor Peter Chowney and also leads on equalities; Judy Rogers, returned by just five votes in Castle ward, takes the key planning portfolio along with governance and community safety; Ali Roark, new to cabinet, becomes chair of the Charity Committee.

Cllr Barnett was keen to stress that the new council would adopt a more open and inclusive approach to policy than in the recent past.

He said: “For all of us — and I think I am speaking for all three political parties — there is more that joins us together in terms of our love of Hastings and our determination to make this town a truly great town. There is more we agree on than we disagree on…We shouldn’t be having the debate purely on political allegiance. It doesn’t make any sense for the vast majority of the things we do.” 

“Tough decisions”

Some “really tough decisions”, however, would have to be made, particularly in the two areas he identified as having maximum priority – balancing the council budget and addressing the shortage of housing.

“We are all going to have to take responsibility for those tough decisions and I hope we can work together and find ways of changing the way we work in order to deliver a better budget for this town and better set of services as a result.”

Cllr Hilton echoed Cllr Barnett’s sentiments in commending the “co-operative alliance” agreed between the Labour and Green groups which, she said, “commits both groups to working together in the best interest of Hastings council and the people of the town in a co-operative, open and participatory matter.” She revealed, however, that one of the five Green members – Cllr Claire Carr, see below – had declined to join the alliance, and would in effect act as an independent councillor while pursuing a separate Green agenda.

There was also an early indication that other Greens, too, may keep Cllr Barnett and his Labour colleagues guessing on whether political support will be forthcoming on any given issue. After Cllr Barnett announced that the constitution of council committees would be shared between members of all three parties, but that the planning committee would have a Labour chair and thus an inbuilt majority, Conservative leader Andy Patmore countered with a proposal that this key chairing role should be rotated, so that no party would have consistent control. When this counter-proposal was put to the vote, two Greens stuck their hands up in favour along with the 12 Conservatives, while three abstained. Mayor James Bacon exercised his casting vote to reject it, so Cllr Barnett got his way on this occasion. That may not always be the case. 

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