A THIRD councillor has quit Leeds City Council’s ruling Labour administration in the space of eight days - amid claims of bullying and a “toxic atmosphere” in the party - leading to suggestions that the city’s decision-makers are “in turmoil”.
Crossgates councillor Janette Walker - who is currently the subject of a disciplinary investigation - has walked out of the party just days after Garforth ward members Mark Dobson and Sarah Field resigned to form their own independent party.
Announcing her decision on the eve of the council’s annual budget setting meeting, councillor Walker - who will now stand as an independent - said she had “no confidence” in the party’s leadership to manage a budget of £492.67 million in the best interests of Leeds citizens.
She said: “There is a toxic atmosphere of mistrust, bullying, cronyism, whispers and unfairness endemic within the controlling elite of the Leeds Labour Group.
“This was most recently highlighted by deeply unpleasant, but sadly not untypical, comments regarding councillors who have recently left the group over a variety of legitimate concerns.
“There are many hard working Labour councillors in Leeds, who I know feel as I do and equally undermined.
“There are always differences of opinion, but since the new leadership regime things have spiralled out of all control and discipline is not applied fairly.”
Councillor Walker added that she was facing “sanctions” for publicly criticising fellow councillors who had failed to pay their council tax, something she said was “not in keeping with the Labour values I cherish”.
The Labour Group hit back at councillor Walker’s claims, saying that her depiction of the council’s ruling group was “completely fanciful”.
A spokesman said: “We’re sorry to see councillor Walker take this decision, but her depiction of the Labour Group is completely fanciful.
“The truth is that she was facing an internal disciplinary investigation over inappropriate social media postings, and concerns have also been raised at her unacceptably low level of attendance at council committee meetings over recent months.
“The Leeds Labour Group is proud of the ambitious approach we’re taking to leading our great city, and will this week be putting forward a budget which protects frontline services despite the huge and disproportionate cuts being imposed on us by the Tory government.”
The internal chaos at the Labour group somewhat overdshadowed today’s budget setting meeting, with opposition councillors quick to pounce.
Tory group leader councillor Andrew Carter started his speech by joking that “we seem to be getting emails like confetti about defections from the Labour group”.
His colleague councillor John Procter added: “Labour in Leeds are divided. They haven’t got a clue what to do with a serious budget situation. They’re split, they are in turmoil and we all know it.”
However council and Labour group leader Judith Blake insisted any claims of division were “wishful and fanciful thinking” by opponents, adding that the party was united in “doing our very best to put our communities first”.