Labour and Greens form co-operative alliance at Hastings Borough Council

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Labour and the Green Party have formed a ‘co-operative alliance’ to run Hastings Borough Council.

At a full council meeting on Wednesday (May 25), councillors from the Labour and Green Party groups formally agreed to form an administration, which will run the authority for the next two years.

The meeting was the first to take place since the election earlier this month tipped the council into no overall control, leaving it with 15 Labour councillors, 12 Conservatives and five Greens.

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With the Green Party’s support, Labour’s Paul Barnett was re-elected as council leader. He appointed a cabinet formed of six Labour councillors (including himself) and two Greens.

Hastings Borough Council's new cabinetHastings Borough Council's new cabinet
Hastings Borough Council's new cabinet

Cllr Barnett began his new tenure by promising a more open and transparent approach and appealing to all political groups to work together more closely.

He said: “For all of us — and I think I am speaking for all three political parties — there is more that joins us together in terms of our love of Hastings and our determination to make this town a truly great town. There is more we agree on than we disagree on.”

He added: “We shouldn’t be having the debate purely on political allegiance. It doesn’t make any sense for the vast majority of the things we do. That is how I am going to try and run this council.

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“It is a sober analysis of the situation we are in, not just how our residents have voted. But the reality of trying to run a council where we haven’t got enough money to do what we want to do. Some really tough decisions are going to have to be made.

“We are all going to have to take responsibility for those tough decisions and I hope we can work together and find ways of changing the way we work in order to deliver a better budget for this town and better set of services as a result.

“In the end, what we all care about, is the survival of this council for the future, for the people of Hastings. The last thing we need is to find ourselves in a situation in two years time where the council itself is at risk, because that will put Hastings’ future at risk as well.”

Cllr Barnett said imminent changes would include a move to open up the council’s cabinet meetings to questions from both councillors and members of the public. The chairing of the councils committees are also to be split more evenly across political parties.

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These changes were welcomed by Green Party group leader Julia Hilton, who described it as a ‘totally new way of working’.

She said: “Many conversations have been held with both group leaders to establish a way forward. Everyone has expressed a wish for more collaborative ways of working.

“There is, I think, cross-party support for this and the necessary reforms to our constitution to make this possible and open up the council for more scrutiny and debate — both by councillors and the general public. “The co-operative alliance agreed by the Labour and Green groups, commits both groups to working together in the best interest of Hastings council and the people of the town in a co-operative, open and participatory matter. “The first item on the council’s agenda is of course seeking a balanced budget, which will not be an easy task. But we need to involve the whole town in how we reshape how the council works to best deliver, particularly on improving the health and wellbeing of the town while addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis.”

Cllr Hilton also paid tribute to the work of Castle Ward councillor Claire Carr, who will not be taking part in the co-operative arrangements (although will remain part of the Green Party group).

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Cllr Carr had been elected as a Labour councillor in 2021 but defected to the Greens in December. In a letter to residents at the time, Cllr Carr said she had been “sidelined, gagged and isolated” by the Labour group, both “as the mother of a gender non-conforming child” and “a member of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The council’s Conservative group leader Andy Patmore also welcomed the promises of more openness. He went on to say it was his group’s hope the new administration would be more open to ‘constructive criticism’, saying the council had previously been “a juggernaut [which] moves in one direction and just can’t stop even though it knows it’s wrong”.

Cllr Patmore said: “I would really like to echo many of the sentiments that Cllr Barnett put forward. One of the main things is that we all love this town. That is the biggest thing to take from this meeting this evening; we do what we do because we love Hastings.”

He added: “We are facing probably the biggest challenge that we’ve faced not only since I became a councillor, but probably for many, many years. We have come up against a financial barrier.

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“I don’t want to dwell on the past, but it has been coming for a long time. We’ve now hit that barrier and we are going to have to make some very, very difficult and tough decisions.”

Veteran Conservative councillor Peter Pragnell struck a different note, however. He said: “My understanding, talking to people, was that most people voted Green to get rid of a failed and failing Labour administration. A failure which is echoed in the elections of the last two years.”

He added: “Labour is a party that has been going backwards in Hastings and well deserves to go backwards. They’ve been in charge for the last 12 years.

“Let’s not forget that whilst we are hearing Cllr Barnett’s warm words about things we need to do. We are where we are, because we had a Labour council for the last 12 years.”