Leaders of the two main opposition groups at Kirklees Council want to see a fresh start following the resignation of council leader Shabir Pandor.
Clr Pandor stood down suddenly on Wednesday night after five years as leader and two years as deputy leader.
He said he felt it was “time for me to stand aside to allow a renewed sense of direction, vision and aspiration for the people across Kirklees.”
His resignation came amid reports that more than half of the council’s Labour group had backed calls for a vote of no confidence.
The move came just a week after the Tory opposition called for Clr Pandor to quit claiming he “wilfully misled” the council over his handling of the case of Batley East councillor Fazila Loonat, who was jailed for 14 weeks this month for perverting the course of justice. She had repeatedly lied over a speeding ticket.
The council recently revealed that it must make savings of £46 million over the next financial year and that up to 750 staff could be made redundant.
The council’s chief executive Jacqui Gedman is to retire shortly and her replacement, Steve Mawson, is due to start in October.
Chief executive Jacqui Gedman (left) with Clr Pandor and director of public health Rachel Spencer-Henshall
Other senior directors have also left or are about to leave. They include: finance director Eamonn Croston, who held the key statutory role of ‘Section 151 Officer’ – the officer who oversees financial management; Mel Meggs, director of children’s services; and Colin Parr, strategic director for environment and climate change.
Tory leader Clr David Hall (Liversedge & Gomersal) welcomed Clr Pandor’s resignation and said: “His leadership of this lacklustre Labour administration has failed the council, its employees and the residents of Kirklees.
“Clr Pandor and his Labour cabinet, through their inaction over many years, have left the council in a precarious financial position which will result in even poorer services and cost many hard-working council employees their livelihoods.
“I hope that their leader’s resignation will highlight to the Labour Party that its primary focus should be on providing those core services which are vital to the daily lives of Kirklees residents.
“We now need a strong leader of the council to steer the organisation through the turbulent times ahead, who will act with integrity and in a spirit of co-operation with other Kirklees groups.”
Liberal Democrat leader Clr John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said: “Given that the borough is in the most difficult financial situation, probably since it was formed, it was initially a surprise that Clr Pandor should choose now to resign.
“There are many changes at Kirklees right now with great pressures on staff and services not least because of the recent news of redundancy talks.
“It’s clear from the news of an upcoming Labour vote of no confidence that the Labour administration has had some serious internal issues.
“We’d hope though that new leadership will bring a sense of urgency and direction that has been lacking.
“I would urge the new leader to be as open as possible with what needs to happen in council and keep faith with residents by being as accountable as is possible.”
Clr Pandor declined to comment further on the reasons for his departure or about his future intentions, other than to confirm he would remain a councillor for Batley West.
He spoke of his successes and how under his leadership from 2018 there had been a budget for investment which “put the ambition back into Kirklees Council so that residents can believe they have a council that delivers.”
He spoke of investment in public parks and playgrounds and events such as Huddersfield Carnival, the mela, Huddersfield Food & Drink Festival and Pride events.
“This underpinned our diversity strategy so everyone felt they had a stake in Kirklees,” he said.
Clr Pandor said austerity and changes to the way the Government funded Kirklees and other local authorities had caused immense damage.
“We need a fair funding formula from Government,” he said. “If we had the same funding formula as in 2010 we would have a surplus.”
Interim council leader Cathy Scott
Clr Pandor was proud of the work which took place to guide the district through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic was a massive challenge, not just for Kirklees but internationally,” he said. “That’s where my leadership came into its own.
“As soon as lockdown started, my workload doubled but we worked well across parties with clinics, track and trace and community champions reaching out to the community and helping keep people safe.
“As we came through the various lockdowns there was a clear strategy in place. However, as we started to return to normality we had the cost-of-living crisis, rising energy prices and Ukraine.
“That’s something the Tories have exacerbated. Inflation is too high, mortgages and rents are skyrocketing and people are struggling to put food on the table.
“Despite the cost-of-living crisis we have upped our game with the roll out of the Bread and Butter Thing and helping food banks and as a local authority we are still trying to help.”
On his term of leadership Clr Pandor added: “Five years is a long time, and there were two years before that as deputy leader.
“It’s only right we have a fresh approach because we have a massive crisis all across local government, not just in Kirklees. We have to balance the books and we have to carry on our ambition.”
Deputy leader Clr Cathy Scott has taken over as interim leader. A vote for the next leader is due to take place at the next full council meeting on September 13.