IT’S fair to say that the first year of a Labour minority administration in Monmouthshire has been a bruising experience for the councillors involved. Almost all their councillors were brand new in last year’s election and none had any experience of running a local authority and overseeing a budget of nearly a third of a billion pounds.
They were defeated on their budget and had to come back a week later with a revised version having been forced to ditch unpopular policies to double the price of school breakfast clubs, increase charges on town centre businesses and scrap educational psychologists. Their blueprint for the five year term was rejected on multiple occasions and eventually it was the fifth version that was begrudgingly approved.
It was no surprise therefore that Labour has now done a deal and formed a coalition with Llantilio Crossenny Green Councillor Ian Chandler. Ian will take on the demanding social services portfolio and inherit the mess left behind by his predecessor Tudor Thomas who had tried to close Tudor Street day centre without any consultation and flog the land for development.
Intervention from the Conservatives and Independents, including Cllr Chandler prevented this from happening, but we now await the administration’s response to an expert report recommending the centre be saved.
The coalition between Labour and the single Green gives the administration effective control of the council with 23 out of 46 seats. Prior to forming the administration Cllr Chandler and Llanbadoc and Usk councillor Meirion Howells quit the independent group to set up a new group on their own called ‘Green Independents’.
While Cllr Chandler is a member of the new cabinet, there is greater confusion around the new role of his colleague Cllr Meirion Howells.
Last week Cllr Howells was elected as the new Chair of the Council to take over from Cllr Laura Wright. Cllr Howells now finds himself in the curious position of having the casting vote on the council, not as a member of the administration but a member of a group that is in the administration.
Cllr Chandler was elected for the Green Party and Cllr Howells as an independent. Residents in Cllr Chandler’s and Cllr Howells’ wards will be watching closely to ensure that they stick to the promises upon which they were elected and don’t morph into Labour councillors because in both wards the Labour Party was firmly rejected last year, getting as little as 6 per cent of the vote.