Culture bid schism opens in Leeds as another councillor quits Labour

Councillor Catherine Dobson
Councillor Catherine Dobson
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A SCHISM over Leeds’ costly bid to become Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2023 was exposed today after another Labour councillor resigned from the party in protest at its “waste” of money on “vanity” projects.

Coun Catherine Dobson also accused council leaders of “bullying” and attacked their underwriting of loans to Yorkshire County Cricket Club at Headingley, while cutting spending on social care.

Coun Dobson, who will now sit as an independent in the council chamber, said: “I am not prepared to stand by while the Labour Council withdraws basic services to my community while bankrolling vanity projects.”

Coun Dobson, who describes her Killingbeck and Seacroft ward as one of the most disadvantaged in the city, said: “I did not become a councillor to support costly and speculative City of Culture bids, waste £4.8m through the Local Enterprise Partnership on the half-built and abandoned city centre Leeds Arena hotel, underwrite loans to Yorkshire County Cricket Club, support unused cycle lanes or stand by whilst we close council run dementia care homes.”

Earlier this year, three other Labour councillors quit in protest at cuts to care services.

Coun Dobson’s brother Mark, a long-serving Garforth councillor and a member of the authority’s cabinet until last year, resigned the Labour group in February amid claims of stifled debate on care home closures and a planned taxpayer-funded grant to Yorkshire Cricket Club, which has now been scrapped.

He was followed out of the Labour group by Councillors Janette Walker and Sarah Field, who resigned the whip less than a year after being elected.

Mark Dobson said today: “It was only a matter of time before others followed.”

He described the city’s Capital of Culture bid as “unnecessary”, and added: “Hull needed its status as UK City of Culture this year as a key economic driver and had I been a councillor there I would have supported it.

“But Leeds does not need it. The region is built on the Leeds economy. I can’t see the point of a Leeds bid when other cities in the running would stand to benefit more.”

Catherine Dobson said she did not know if other Labour councillors would follow her out of the door, but added: “I do know there are a lot of unhappy people there. I’ve been really shocked by the complete lack of democracy within the group. There’s no real debate. Ordinary councillors have no real voice in anything.

“It’s bullying, it’s coercion. I’ve seen in recent months that people who do speak up in the Labour group are shouted down by colleagues, and a lot of people have decided to just have a quiet life.”

Labour group leaders launched a strongly-worded attack on their former colleague.

A spokesman for the group said: Coun Dobson’s extraordinary attack on our European Capital of Culture bid speaks volumes. The bid has cross party support on the council and huge support from partners across the city. It is unfortunate she chose not to mention her concerns at the many opportunities available to her.

“Her own ward is a great example of how a strong cultural offer contributes enormously to the well-being of disadvantaged communities.”

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