We’re going to work to make Calderdale a more prosperous place and do the right thing for its people.
That was the defiant message from Coun Tim Swift, the new leader of Calderdale Council, as Labour took back control of the local authority and pledged major changes.
At Wednesday’s annual council meeting at Halifax Town Hall, it was confirmed that Labour - which has the largest number of seats but is short of an overall majority - will run the council in a minority administration.
Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors abstained from voting and the move marks the second change in leadership of the council in less than a year after Coun Tim Swift was ousted from his position as leader last year, following a vote of no confidence.
The dramatic turn of events saw the Conservatives seize power after accusing Labour of ignoring the views of Calderdale residents and the wishes of the council.
But Coun Swift said he now wants to build a consensus on the council to effectively tackle the problems the district faces, protect the most vulnerable and bring prosperity to Calderdale.
He said: “I feel very positive about the outcome, but also very cautious and very humbled.
“This is about public services and it’s about trying to do the right thing for people in Calderdale.
“I’ve found the Conservative leadership frustrating because I think we’ve felt that on a number of issues there just really hasn’t been the progress there should have been.
“It is a big challenge and a big responsibility, we want to try and do that in a way that takes people with us, but we do believe it is possible to do more to protect the most vulnerable and make Calderdale a more prosperous place and that’s what it’s all about.”
“We said that if we formed a minority administration as the largest party, we would try to look at how the council works and share out some of the other roles.
“What we’re saying very clearly is that yes we are the largest party, we think it’s right therefore that we take the responsibility of providing some leadership for the the council, but we do recognise that we need to take people with us.
“I think it’s really important that on major investments in Calderdale, the kinds of things that are going to shape the place for the next 10 to 15 years, of course we want to build a consensus on the council.
“Even more we want to take people with us, because it’s about shaping the future.”
The Labour group on Calderdale Council hope to realise this through the creation of an all-party investment committee, bringing important economic and investment issues to Calderdale residents.
He said: “We have already had some cross party discussion on the economic task force on the capital programme, but we feel it’s the right time to make this a proper committee that’s open to the public.
“There’s a really big opportunity for Calderdale, not just with the schemes the council is doing, but because we stand to benefit from something like £100m of investment from the West Yorkshire Transport Fund over the next ten years.
“This really is massive and it’s not simply about investing in rail, it’s about how we use the investment in roads and rail to make economic growth within our different towns and communities possible.
“This is a really huge opportunity for Calderdale, we want everybody to understand what’s there and have their say on it.
“Obviously we’re very concerned about the pressures that have come to light in highways in particular and we also recognise that people count on the council to fix the potholes, to mend the street lights, to sweep the roads and we’re not going to lose sight of those basics.
“We’re going to make sure we keep on top of those.”
And he added the fight for the A&E department at Calderdale Royal Hospital would still be a top priority.
“Everybody during the local and general elections made promises about health,” Coun Swift said.
“We think one of the jobs we have to do is hold people to those promises. David Cameron said there’s no reason why our A&E should close, but of course it’s about much more than the A&E. it’s about a viable future for the hospital and it’s about being sure that health and social care working together are keeping people safe, keeping people independent and keeping people healthy.”
And Coun Swift hopes to consult with the people of Calderdale to move forward.
He added: “There are some really big problems ahead, Calderdale has had to cope with some massive cuts already, we know we’ve now got a Conservative government for another five years, we know that’s going to mean further cuts, we know it’s going to mean further problems for people on low incomes and on benefits.
“One of the things that is going to happen over the summer is a really big consultation with people to say what are the really important things the council does, what are you looking for the council to deliver, what things perhaps we accept need to change so that we’re sure what people in Calderdale think and what the council should do.”
Despite supporting the Conservatives in their bid for power last year, the Liberal Democrats refused to support either groups’ nominations for the leader of the council and abstained from voting.
Their leader, Coun Janet Battye (Calder), said: “We have not done a deal with either group, and have not even tried to. We will support or oppose any decisions that are made purely on their merits and whether we
believe these to be in the best interests of the people of Calderdale.
“Our priorities in opposition will be to push for the policies democratically determined by our local grass roots members and included in our manifesto for Calderdale.
“These include sorting out the mess of the Highways Department, reforming the Council so local residents have a real say in decision making and ensuring the Council is run efficiently to mitigate the impact of increased cuts a
majority Conservative government is likely to impose.”
Stephen Baines, leader of the Conservative group, added: “It’s our job to ensure that the Labour party meet the pledges that they have made, that we have full consultation on the budget, they continue the work on the highways department and continue to make it an efficient, well run area in the economy and environment.
“We will certainly not allow them to deliver £1.5 million pounds on other areas when it should have been spent on the highways.”
The new make up of the Cabinet is as follows:
Coun Tim Swift is Leader and Coun Barry Collins is Deputy Leader.
Coun Bob Metcalfe – Adults, Health and Social Care
Coun Megan Swift – Children and Young People’s Services
Coun Steve Sweeney – Communities
Coun Barry Collins – Regeneration and Economic Development
Coun Bryan Smith – Business Improvement and Resources
Coun Simon Young – Public Health, Wellbeing and Engagement
Coun Jenny Lynn – Skills and Environment