A NEW era is on the horizon for Cheshire East Council after Labour and the Independent Group reached a deal to run the borough.

A decade of solid Conservative control came to an end earlier this month following a shock local election which saw the group lose 19 councillors.

Now, an agreement has been reached which would see the Independent Group – made up of 16 out of 19 independent councillors on CEC – support Labour in a cabinet for 2019-20, before working towards scrapping the cabinet system next year.

But the Tories could still challenge the pact in a bid to elect Cllr Janet Clowes as council leader instead of Labour’s Cllr Sam Corcoran next Wednesday.

Cllr Corcoran told the Guardian he is ‘relishing the challenge’ that potentially lies ahead.

He said: “We have got a clear manifesto but we are not in control of CEC completely. We will have to work across party lines and convince others to vote in line with the manifesto.

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“The budget is a key part of the council calendar and I would not recommend ripping it up part way through the year – CEC’s officers would be having kittens if we were going to do that.

“There may be some ideas that we wish to change, but we would need to get the approval of other members of the council, and we would have to go through the proper process.”

The deal would see CEC work towards replacing the cabinet with the committee system from 2020-21, which would give councillors from all political groups representation on decision-making boards – in line with the Change Cheshire East campaign which the Independent Group launched last year.

Meanwhile, the Conservative group would oversee scrutiny at the council as the opposition.

Cllr Mark Goldsmith, Residents of Wilmslow councillor for Wilmslow West and Chorley and member of the Independent Group, said: “We are now fairly confident of being able to deliver crucial change to CEC that the Conservatives had previously blocked. The committee system will be far more open and transparent.

Knutsford Guardian:

“It’s exciting, it’s interesting and it’s only for 12 months with Labour. There were some elements of working with Labour that do concern us but we have taken steps to mitigate that.”

Cllr Craig Browne, Alderley Edge member and leader of the Independent Group, had been in negotiations with both Labour and the Conservatives over a deal for 2019-20 and a commitment towards establishing a committee system.

Announcing the deal, he said: “There are aspects of working with both major parties which give us cause for concern and we have not taken this decision lightly.

“However, this 12-month agreement is necessary to bring about the vital changes needed to ensure CEC operates in an open and transparent manner for the years to come."

CEC now has 25 Labour members and 16 in the Independent Group.

Cllr Clowes could yet match those 41 votes in an attempt to become leader, with 34 Conservatives, four Liberal Democrats and three separate independent councillors.

She said: “The negotiations between Labour, the Independent Group and the Conservatives were very open.

“In actual fact, both Labour and the Conservatives agreed to the same deal. It was very much up to the Independent Group which way they wanted to go.”

Knutsford Guardian:

In a statement released following the Labour-Independent Group announcement, Cllr Clowes pointed towards the frustration of Brexit as a reason for her party’s demise in Cheshire East.

She added: “Together with local Conservatives, I share the frustration of residents over the Westminster Brexit impasse but am deeply sceptical that hard-working Cheshire East taxpayers in areas such as Knutsford, Wilmslow and Alderley Edge expected the hard-left to now be in control of their council.

“Through our scrutiny functions we will ensure that the new administration is held to account and residents’ best interests are represented.”

A decision on whether to challenge Cllr Corcoran is set to be made at a Conservative group meeting next Tuesday, the Guardian understands.

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Opposition groups have previously challenged the Conservatives for the role, with Labour’s ex-Cllr Damian Bailey challenging Cllr Rachel Bailey in 2016.

CEC members will elect their new leader during next Wednesday’s annual meeting at Tatton Park.