3.17pm: Martin Curtis becomes Cambridgeshire County Council leader after bruising encounter at Shire Hall

Local Election count at the Hudson in Wisbech
Martin Curtis

Local Election count at the Hudson in Wisbech Martin Curtis - Credit: Archant

WITHIN the last few minutes Whittlesey councillor Martin Curtis has been elected leader of Cambridgeshire County Council.

Former leader Shona Johnstone today having position of honorary alderman conferred upon her

Former leader Shona Johnstone today having position of honorary alderman conferred upon her - Credit: Archant

The bruising battle ended with a relatively large majority, Cllr Curtis polling 32 votes with one time favoured independent councillor John Hipkin on 16 votes.

Council chamber at Shire Hall today

Council chamber at Shire Hall today - Credit: Archant

Lib Dem leader Maurice Leeke had been a candidate for round one of the voting but, having polled 13 votes, was eliminated for the final round.

Tory leader Martin Curtis among early arrivals at Shire Hall

Tory leader Martin Curtis among early arrivals at Shire Hall - Credit: Archant

Tactically the minority parties and groups had no produced no consensus on a single candidate to oppose Cllr Curtis and there were several abstentions during the two votes at Shire Hall, Cambridge.

But Cllr Curtis will face a tough year ahead as the council switches from Cabinet to committee governance and, with only 32 of the 69 council seats, his Conservative minority administration face tough challenges.


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Three candidates - Martin Curtis, Maurice Leeke and John Hipkin- all have their supporters but it ought, by tradition, go to the councillor in charge of the party with the most members. That would be Cllr Curtis.

Councillors have voted to abolish the cabinet system and instead govern through committees at a historic meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council at Shire Hill.

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Liberal Democrat Councillor Killian Bourke’s motion was passed by 37 votes to 31.

His proposal received the support of Labour, UKIP and Independent councillors.

Addressing council before the lively debate, in which 19 councillors voiced their opinions, Cllr Bourke said: “It is wrong that so much power is concentrated in the hands of so few people.

“It is harmful to the quality of decision making.

“The committee system is the most democratic and representative form of governance.

“We need to make the change so that all council members are involved in decision making that affects their communities, not just ten cabinet representatives.”

In response, Conservative leader Martin Curtis put forward an amendment to the motion, which called for the issue to be put before the Constitution and Ethics Committee who would report back to council.

He said: “We accept that in light of the election results we need to review the structure of government but I feel we are missing a trick insisting on going one way or the other today without allowing a review.

“We should be imaginative and see which system would be in the best interests of the people we serve.”

Labour leader Councillor Paul Sales, pledging his support to the motion, said: “We are not in favour of the amendment since we feel it undoes the very things that we think are in the best interests of the people of Cambridgeshire.

“The committee system is a better system of governance.”

Councillor Peter Reeve, UKIP leader, was thrilled with the outcome of the vote.

He said: “UKIP said we came here to deliver democracy and, with the support and cooperation of other parties, on day one we have achieved what we set out to do.”

The new leader of the council will be decided this afternoon.

The vote - 37 to 31 with one abstention- means a dramatic shake up in the way the affairs of the £1bn a year county council runs.

Earlier elements of farce had crept into a debate at Shire Hall, Cambridge, today as electronic voting mix up.

Councillors were being invited to vote on whether to accept an amendment from the Conservative group which would have postponed a decision on a change to Cabinet style of governance.

However by 36 votes to 32 the amendment was lost – even though it had been reported that one councillor had inadvertently voted twice!

Councillors insisted the electronic system had been tested at an induction day earlier this month.

Now the council is set to debate the main motion which is almost certain to see committees returned to Shire Hall and Cabinet abolished.

The amendment for a ‘wait and review’ time scale of possible changes had been put forward by County Councillor Martin Curtis, leader of the 32 strong Tory group.

Cllr Curtis replaced Nick Clarke as leader following his failure to retain his seat at Fulbourn.

EARLIER

A FIERY debate is under way at Shire Hall as Conservatives get their first taste in many years of not having overall control of the county council.The debate is focusing on whether Cabinet system of governance should be abolished in favour of a return to a committee style.

Independent county councillor John Hipkin has aligned himself with the opposition groups who want the Cabinet system disbanded.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha says changes don’t have to cost more and would be more democratic.

Independent councillor Mike Mason said the people of Cambridgeshire vote for change to governance model

But county councillor Steve Count (Con) insisted that no change was possible for a year and so the time should be spent looking at options.

UPDATES TO FOLLOW

EARLIER

THE most dramatic meeting for years is shortly to get under at Shire Hall, Cambridge, as the Tories fight to retain a decisive influence but not overall control of Cambridgeshire County Council.

This was the chamber at 10am today with up to 69 councillors expected shortly to debate two motions that could see an end to Cabinet rule and restoration of committee governance.

UKIP’s surprise showing in the recent election has given them renewed hope for using a mixture of other parties and independents to force Tories to surrender the Cabinet style of government to be replaced by committees.

New Tory leader Martin Curtis is insistent this cannot be achieved quickly and other options should be considered.

Councillor Maurice Leeke, who surprisingly replaced Councillor Kilian Bourke as Lib Dem leader last week, believes the Tories will retain minority control.

“I think that the Conservatives will be in .. well not in overall control, probably in minority control,” he said yesterday.

“But it is important that we do get changes to the way the council operates, to reflect the fact that no party does have complete control of the council.”

UPDATES TO FOLLOW

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