Leeds City Council’s ruling Labour administration was thrown into further chaos last night as a second councillor quit in the space of three days.
As revealed in the Yorkshire Evening Post on Tuesday, long-serving Garforth councillor Mark Dobson – a member of the authority’s cabinet until last year – resigned from the Labour group amid claims of stifled debate and poor leadership in relation to a number of recent key decisions on care home closures and a planned taxpayer-funded grant to Yorkshire Cricket Club. The latter has now been scrapped.
Last night, Coun Dobson’s ward colleague Sarah Field - who was only elected last May - also walked out to join the newly formed Garforth and
Swillington Independents Group headed by councillor Dobson.
It means two out of the three Garforth seats have now slipped from the Labour group’s grasp in one of the party’s traditional Leeds heartlands .
Echoing some of councillor Dobson’ comments from earlier, Coun Field said she had “grown increasingly uneasy with the direction, priorities and manoeuvring of the Labour Group” since her election less than a year ago.
“It is with a heavy heart that I have come to the decision to resign the Leeds Labour Group whip, but I have seen little evidence that our public services, children, older people and vulnerable adults are being prioritised over ill-fated projects without substance.
“In addition to repressing any meaningful debate and the indefensible decision to gift Yorkshire Cricket £4 million and close dementia care homes, the statement yesterday which falsely alleged that councillor Mark Dobson has struggled to cope with his responsibilities has left me with no faith in the Leadership of the council.
“I have been a Labour Party supporter all my adult life and I am immeasurably proud of the many Labour councillors, members and activists across Leeds who continue to work for the benefit of our citizens in the face of crippling central government cuts.
“I am looking forward to continuing to work as an independent councillor for the residents of Garforth, Swillington and Great and Little Preston.”
The departure of the Garforth duo means that the political balance of Leeds City Council is now: Labour - 61; Conservatives - 19; Liberal Democrats - nine; Morley Borough Independents - five; Greens - three; Garforth and Swillington Independent Group - two.
A spokesman for the Leeds Labour Group said: “We’re disappointed with both Mark and Sarah’s decisions, especially as the Labour Group has worked hard to secure a future for The Green Care Home and the grant for Yorkshire Cricket was withdrawn some time ago.
“The fact their resignations are based on these issues unfortunately shows a misunderstanding on their part of some of the hugely significant issues a councillor in Leeds has to deal with.
“The priority for the Labour Group is to continue to focus on providing the best public services possible, albeit in the face of severe Government cuts, for the people of Garforth and Swillington and across the city of Leeds.”