Hastings councillors have elected an “interim” leader, following the authority’s dramatic political upheaval last month.
On Wednesday (January 17), Cllr Julia Hilton was voted in as the new leader of Hastings Borough Council — a position the Green Party councillor is expected to hold until the next round of local elections in May.
Cllr Hilton’s election follows on from the decision of six senior councillors, including previous council leader Paul Barnett, to resign from Labour and form a new independent group last month.
These newly-independent councillors had been due to face a series of no confidence motions on Wednesday, but chose to resign their cabinet roles ahead of the meeting.
While the details have not yet been set, it is understood members of the new group, known as the Hastings Independents, will form part of Cllr Hilton’s interim administration as part of a power-sharing agreement.
In a statement released after the meeting, Cllr Hilton said: “This solution has been reached after lengthy discussions with all political groups. I had hoped to be able to form a unity cabinet with representation from all four groups, including Labour and Conservative, but that has not proved possible.
“This interim administration is one that all groups have said they can live with for the next few months until the May elections, to give much-needed stability to the council. The final cabinet is still to be agreed but it will be made up of members of the Green Party and the recently-formed Hastings Independent Group.
“My focus for the months to the elections in May will be on securing the financial future of the council and working on the ambitious plans to tackle the housing crisis.
“Part of the problem we have had, in tackling these issues, relates to our current clunky cabinet system of decision-making. Hastings Green Party has long called for a move to a more democratic and transparent committee system. The aim is for all councillors to have a voice in decision-making.
“With four political groups as well as individual independents now sitting on the council, it is essential that we develop a more inclusive and consensual decision-making process. I hope that this short period before the May local elections can allow us to start making that change, and I look forward to working with all councillors to develop that new political culture.
“Residents want to see their councillors working together in the running of our council for the good of the town. Our priority as a councillor body must be to ensure the council can survive and thrive, emerging from the latest set of financial challenges even leaner but nimble and agile to work with partners and create a thriving and flourishing future for the town and its residents.”
While the council’s other political groups will not join the interim administration, these members also chose not to vote against Cllr Hilton becoming leader.
In all 14 councillors, including most members of the Conservative and Labour groups, chose to abstain from the vote and no alternative candidate was put forward.
Speaking after the meeting, however, the Labour group’s new leader Heather Bishop described the power-sharing arrangement as a ‘coalition of chaos’.
Cllr Bishop said: “After weeks of chaos and uncertainty, we now know that the Hastings Independents have done a dodgy deal with the Green Party to cling on to power.
“This coalition of chaos is not the fresh start that Hastings needs. Just four weeks ago, Cllr Hilton called the Hastings Independents ‘highly irresponsible’, but she has now done a deal to keep them in power. Even worse, despite their record of failure bringing the council to the brink of bankruptcy, Cllr Hilton has put the Independents back in charge of the council finances.
“In May, residents in Hastings have the chance to clear out this unelected and unwanted coalition of failure, and vote for a changed Labour Party that will bring stability and prosperity back to our town.”