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Greens angry at exclusion as Conservatives set to form cabinet agreement at Babergh District Council with Independents and Liberal Democrats

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Endeavour House, Ipswich (10914465)
Endeavour House, Ipswich (10914465)

The incumbent Babergh District Council leader is set to stay on in the authority’s top job, as a clearer picture of the new cabinet agreement begins to take shape.

The Conservative group had a majority heading into the local elections earlier this month, but lost overall control, despite remaining the largest party.

The group was two seats short of an overall majority, with current council leader John Ward expected to offer two Independent councillors positions in the cabinet.

Now, it appears that the cabinet will feature four Conservatives, three Independents and a Liberal Democrat.

But the arrangement has drawn the ire of the Greens, which became the second biggest party and third largest voting bloc on the council after the election.

The 32 seats are now comprised of 15 Conservatives, eight Independents, four Greens, three Lib Dems and two Labour councillors.

Green councillor Robert Lindsay told the Free Press he believed, as his party held one eighth of the seats, they should be represented in one of the eight cabinet posts.

“We just think it’s insulting,” he said. “I think they are really making a mistake.

“Excluding the third largest group on the council, and including the fourth, is undemocratic, unfair and illogical.”

It is understood that members of the opposition parties met after the election to discuss their ambitions and the possibility of a rainbow coalition, but no agreement could be formed.

Mr Ward, who took over as the authority’s Conservative leader from Jennie Jenkins in early 2018, said the partnership administration would draw upon a mixture of talent and experience from Independents and Lib Dems across the chamber.

“Clearly, there is no majority group now, albeit we are the largest minority group,” he said.

“We need to put together an administration that’s representative as far as possible.”

Mr Ward pointed to some of the key challenges ahead – the formation of a joint local plan with Mid Suffolk District Council, which will inform future housing in the districts, and a medium term financial plan – as being key for securing agreement from all sides.

He added: “It’s going to need agreement from everybody pulling together to address these problems, and the cabinet I am going to be able to put together will be fit for purpose.

“I understand the concerns of the Greens, but they are all new councillors.

“There are a number of non-cabinet roles that they will be expected to take up – membership of committees and outside bodies and partnerships – which will give them many opportunities to participate in the activities of the council.”

However, the Green Party argue that this still meant their members did not have a seat at the decision-making table.

Mr Lindsay revealed he had been offered a non-cabinet position of climate champion, which he declined because he felt the role had “no teeth”.

He stated: “As a Green councillor, I would be challenging them on climate change anyway, so I would be tearing my hair out having an honorary title without having a say in decision making.

“I can see the point that they are the largest group, and the opposition is quite diverse, so you only need two people to disagree for it to fall apart, but I think the other option is to have the cabinet reflect the balance of the new council people have voted for.

“In the election in Babergh, 23 per cent, or just under one in four people, voted Green. They voted for change, but, unfortunately, it’s business as usual at the council.

“It is this kind of ‘we know best’ approach that is making people disillusioned with our democratic system.”