Countdown begins to May elections when control of Worthing Borough Council will be at stake

The Labour group at Worthing Borough Council says it is ‘ready to take control’ pending the results of next year’s elections.

Labour celebrating last week's by-election win

This follows a Labour by-election win in Marine ward last week which saw the Conservatives lose overall control of the council.

Vicki Wells was elected on Thursday (December 2) with 1,239 votes to Conservative candidate Syed Ahmed’s 972 votes.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

This means both the Conservatives and Labour have 17 seats each on the council, with the Liberal Democrats holding two. One councillor is currently sitting as an independent.

Labour group leader Beccy Cooper reacted to the result, saying her party is an ‘administration in waiting’.

“The Marine by-election is the culmination of a seismic shift in politics in Worthing, ” she said.

“It’s just four years since I won a by-election, also in Marine ward, and became the first Labour councillor on Worthing Borough Council for over 40 years.”

Dr Cooper said it was a ‘comfortable victory’ for Labour adding that new councillor Vicki Wells would be ‘energetic, competent, and compassionate’.

“The result sends out a clear message that Worthing is eager for change and ready to take a new direction,” she added.

The group leader accused the Conservatives of ‘managing decline in Worthing for a decade or more’ saying that allegations against some of its members meant it was ‘not fit to govern’.

Result ‘disappointing but not totally unexpected’

Former Marine ward representative Tim Wills {stepped down on October 15 after anti-racist campaign group HOPE not Hate said he allegedly sent messages to a Telegram chat associated with Patriotic Alternative. An ongoing conduct investigation is being carried out by the council.

Worthing borough councillor Russ Cochran (Northbrook) is currently sitting as an independent councillor.

Both the Worthing Conservative group on the council and the Conservative Party suspended Mr Cochran’s membership last month over historic Tweets and are currently investigating.

Council leader Kevin Jenkins (Con, Gaisford) said the by-election result was ‘disappointing but not totally unexpected’.

“When an elected member of any party publishes comments similar to those expressed by ex-councillor Tim Wills, then the electorate have a right to express their anger at the ballot box,” Mr Jenkins said.

“Turnout in Marine is often much higher, so this result may not be a true reflection of any future outcomes.

“There is a long time between now and the next elections in May 2022.”

Dr Cooper said Labour would ‘offer something very different’ if it gains seats in May 2022.

“We’re committed to putting our communities at the heart of the decisions we will need to take for the future of our town,” she said.

“We’re ready to work in partnership with our residents, voluntary groups and local businesses to develop Worthing for the benefit of all.

“We will embed climate action and the wellbeing of our communities into all areas of council work.

“We will bring our best to Worthing, and will work tirelessly to make sure that our town is a place that is welcoming, safe and thriving.”

‘Rubbishing Worthing’

But Mr Jenkins accused the Labour group leader of ‘rubbishing Worthing’.

“It seems that she thinks that by saying this as often as she can she is hoping that people will believe her,” he said.

“The truth is that Worthing is a ‘go to destination’ – we see that in all the surveys and articles in mainstream national media celebrating Worthing as a place to live.

“People and businesses are relocating here from across the South East because they like what they find in Worthing, they like the feel of the town and how it has in recent years been transformed under this Conservative administration.

“More work is needed and is in progress and great things will start to emerge as we go into 2022.”

Labour’s claim that they are ‘an administration in waiting’ ‘cannot be further from the truth’, according to the council leader.

Mr Jenkins said Labour ‘simply does not have a plan’ to run the council and claimed businesses and partners had expressed ‘increasing concern’ over a change in administration.