COVENTRY City Council’s incoming new leader George Duggins has signalled he will bring his own style of leadership and teamwork, as councillors loyal to ousted Ann Lucas prepared to lose their jobs.
Speaking with the Observer, he emphasised ‘collegiate’ team-working with colleagues and council ‘partners’, as he prepared today to select his new team of cabinet members – after discussions with fellow Labour councillors.
As first revealed by us two weeks ago, his Labour group supporters who co-ordinated the campaign against Coun Lucas complained of her ‘autocratic’, ‘undemocratic’ and dictatorial decision-making on major issues, as well as accusing her of misleading the public on major issues including the Ricoh Arena dispute and more recently the quiet appointment of an acting chief executive.
Lucas loyalists including Rachel Lancaster, Kevin Maton and Damian Gannon are expected to go in today’s cabinet re-shuffle, with Coun Gannon expected to be returning to academic studies.
Couns Lancaster, Gannon and John McNicholas lost their positions on the council’s controlling Labour group’s executive committee on Friday, when Labour councillors voted 21 to 18 to oust Coun Lucas.
Newcomers to the executive committee, which oversees the Labour group, include councillors Pat Seaman (chair), Seamus Walsh (whip) and Mal Mutton (secretary), as well as Coun Duggins alongside continuing council deputy leader Abdul Khan.
Winners in this evening’s cabinet reshuffle are expected to include councillors Jim O’Boyle, Jayne Innes, and potentially John Mutton, the former council leader who Coun Duggins served as deputy before Coun Lucas and the late councillor Townshend ousted them in a coup in 2013.
Coun Duggins confirmed his team would review all major policies, and ‘hit the ground running’ when he formally becomes leader at a council AGM on May 19.
As we first revealed, Coventry city centre redevelopment, schools policy and a so-called ‘devolution deal’ with government for the controversial West Midlands Combined Authority headed by an elected mayor (metro mayor) would be re-examined.
But Coun Duggins said Coventry City Council would continue as a member of the WMCA with the six other West Midlands councils including Birmingham who are full members, and he would replace Coun Lucas on the board.
He added: “I need to understand in some depth where this devolution deal is going. There is a lot of fog around it.
“..It emerged from a leak that there was going to be a metro mayor,” said Coun Duggins, who led the ‘No’ campaign when Coventry voters voted two to one in a referendum in 2012 against having an elected mayor to head Coventry City Council.
“I opposed implacably an elected mayor (in 2012). There will be no renegotiation over the West Midlands Combined Authority, and I would welcome Warwickshire becoming an associate member. But the devolution deal is distinct from that.
“It’s key before I take a stance that the Labour group is informed every inch of the way and outlines to me the direction they wish to take.
“My style is collegiate. That’s the best way to get the best policies on the big issues that are important to the city council and to the city of Coventry. They need to be fully road-tested.
“There are a lot of changes that will be made. My political hero is Harold Wilson. There were a lot of things he did that were not necessarily radical but changed things fundamentally.
“The objective of trying to get better governance is something that will not get people dancing in the streets but will make a lot of difference to the council and city. They are not necessarily tangible to everybody, but the way of doing business is hugely significant.”
On the city centre and the long planned Friargate business development by the railway station, he said: “The attraction of moving council offices to Friargate was that it would kickstart the other Friargate development and on the back on that piggy-back a start of the Coventry (city centre) south development. We need to make progress.
“We are told it can yield £23million of business rates and thousands of jobs. We need to understand where we are with that. You can have all the plans in the world but they need to be fulfilled.”
Coun Duggins re-iterated his long-standing opposition to academies and particularly the forced academisation policy of the Tories in government which they ditched last week following widespread protests.
But he added the reality was many schools in Coventry had already converted from council maintained schools to academy status, and partnership working was key. He added: “I want to look at education in its entirety and what the local authority’s role now is in education.”
UPDATE: New cabinet: George Duggins (leader); Abdul Khan (deputy leader); John Mutton (finance, replacing Damian Gannon); Jim O’Boyle (business); Ed Ruane (stays at children); Kevin Maton (education replacing David Kershaw, previously business); Jayne Innes (public services, replacing Rachel Lancaster); Faye Abbott (adult services); Linda Bigham (community development); Kamran Caan (continues in health).