Posted: 01.10.20 at 14:09 by Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
A reshuffle has taken place at Mendip District Council after the Liberal Democrats assumed outright control for the very first time.
The council was run by the Conservatives between 2003 and 2019, but shifted to no overall control (no party having a majority) in May 2019 as the Tories lost ground in the local elections.
While the Lib Dems emerged as the largest party, they were originally two seats short of a majority, relying on the Greens and independents to ensure their policies were approved.
But a couple of defections over the summer have seen the party take overall control for the first time in the council was created in the mid-1970s.
Edric Hobbs, the independent councillor for Shepton West, was the first to ‘cross the house’ in June.
He was followed by Helen Sprawson-White, independent councillor for Frome Oakfield, who rejoined the party in September – giving the Lib Dems 24 out of 47 council seats.
Ms Sprawson-White was re-elected as council chair at a virtual full council meeting yesterday evening (September 30).
Her previous vice-chair Bente Height – the Conservative member for Shepton East – was replaced by Nick Cottle, the Lib Dem councillor for the Glastonbury St Edmund's ward.
Council leader Ros Wyke announced a reshuffle of her cabinet, with Barry O’Leary and Josh Burr being confirmed as her deputies.
With the reshuffle in place (including assistant cabinet members), Shepton Mallet and Street are represented by three councillors on the cabinet.
Wells and Frome ward members fill two places each, with more rural wards taking three other slots – and Glastonbury not getting a look-in.
Under the reshuffle, the Lib Dems now have a majority on most of the major committees on the council – including the licensing board and the planning board, where major housing developments are debated.
The only exceptions are the audit committee – where four of the eight councillors are Lib Dem – and the scrutiny board, where the seven Lib Dem members are balanced out by three Conservatives, three Greens and an independent.
Council leader Ros Wyke said she would continue to encourage “cross-party working”, stating her party’s new majority would not change how the council would operate going forward.
She said: “While, as ever, there will be political and policy-based differences about how this administration works, let one thing be clear: the Lib Dems will work with anybody and everybody who wants to improve this district.
“As councillors we may not be able to meet together, but we can and we must work together - all of us.
“So, let us all continue to work together to deliver a reformed method of local government in Somerset.
"Let us all work together to improve the quality of life and life-chances of the people of this district.
“It is only by working together that we can achieve that important goal - a fairer, greener Mendip, ensuring no one is left behind, no one is forgotten, and we build a brighter future.”