NEW independent councillors are gearing up for the start of a new era at Cheshire East Council.

The Independent Group has agreed to form a cabinet with Labour in 2019-20, with a view towards ditching the cabinet system next year and replacing it with cross-party committees – something the group began calling for last year through the Change Cheshire East campaign.

It means the 25 Labour councillors will have the support of 16 out of 19 independent councillors – including councillors in Wilmslow, Nantwich and Bollington.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are set to oversee the council’s scrutiny function – in line with the calls made by the Independent Group last year to give opposition groups chairmanship of scrutiny committees.

Cllr Quentin Abel, newly-elected independent councillor for Knutsford, said: “The Independent Group was prepared to work with all parties, and we would have preferred to have everybody working together.

Knutsford Guardian:

“Knutsford is represented on the council by two Conservatives and myself, and I am totally independent. I will look at things objectively and vote on the basis of what I believe to be the correct thing to do. I don’t take any whip from anybody.

“This is an interim process before we move away from the cabinet system and we have tried to be as fair as possible so that the Conservative group has oversight of everything.

“We must be as open and transparent as possible. As much as I would love to say we will make changes instantly, by definition we have to work together to achieve change over time. If you don’t work together then nothing can change and nothing can move forward.

“It is a huge learning curve for me and I am enjoying it so far. I am looking forward to the challenge.”

But not all independent councillors will sit as part of the ‘Independent Group’.

Two have formed a new faction called the ‘Real Independent Group’ – Cllr Brendan Murphy, member for Disley, and Cllr Lloyd Roberts, member for Macclesfield Tytherington.

And one member – Cllr Julie Smith, member for Handforth – will sit on the council completely independently from either of the two factions.

She said: “I stood as an independent and I have no interest at all in joining in a coalition with anyone – certainly not Labour.

Knutsford Guardian:

“I don’t understand it – you are either independent or part of a group. This is what I can’t get my head around. I stood as an independent for Handforth and that is how I am going to stay.

“I don’t want to be involved with any other group being told how to vote and I don’t want anyone thinking that they can influence my decisions. My votes will be based on whatever I feel is right for Handforth.

“I have not been asked to join the Independent Group, and I have not heard from anyone from it since the election.

“I have been asked a couple of times to join the Real Independent Group but I told them I am not interested.”

CEC members will vote on whether to approve the Labour-Independent Group cabinet – with Labour’s Cllr Sam Corcoran as leader – next Wednesday.

READ > Council gears up for a new era

The 34-strong Conservative group – which is the largest on CEC, but lost 19 councillors in the local elections – is yet to confirm whether its leader Cllr Janet Clowes will run against Cllr Corcoran for the position of council leader.

With four Liberal Democrats and three independent councillors not in the Independent Group, Cllr Clowes could yet match the 41 votes which appear guaranteed for Cllr Corcoran to become leader next week.