North Yorkshire Tories woo Independents after losing majority

Councillor Carl Les.

The leadership of a Conservative-led council with almost four years to run until the next election is hoping to woo councillors from outside their party to work with them after losing its majority for the first time in decades.

North Yorkshire Council’s leader Councillor Carl Les has revealed talks had been held with several Independent members this week after being accused of threatening to withhold support for initiatives in one of the Independent councillors’ divisions.

It is understood two former Conservative councillors who were elected in May last year as Independent members are considering whether to work with the Tory group, while another ex-Tory has rejected the Conservative leader’s approach.

Political tensions have been raised at County Hall following Camblesforth councillor Mike Jordan quitting the Tory group last weekend and becoming an Independent member in protest over both the national party and the council’s 20mph zones policy.

The decision has left the council with 45 Conservative members and the same number of Independent, Labour, Liberal, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors.

The authority’s Independent group leader, Councillor Stuart Parsons, said a group meeting on Thursday evening had heard claims Conservatives had suggested to one councillor that “double devolution” – the handing of powers to town and parish councils – may be put on hold in his division unless the member signed up to a new Conservatives and Affiliates group.

He said as the last full council meeting had seen one of the Conservative group’s whips act “scurrilously” by trying to push down an elected members’ voting hand, questions remained over the Tory tactics.

Coun Parsons said: “The Tories, once again, are showing scant regard for the wishes of the electorate which were expressed so recently. I hope that those who elected the two ‘Independents’ who are now propping up this morally bankrupt administration will make their frustration known.”

Rejecting claims he was looking to form the new political group, one of the Independent councillors who the Tories approached, veteran Skipton councillor Robert Heseltine, said he was concerned about the governance of the new council, as there were still four years until the next election.

He described the last full meeting of the authority in May as “chaos”, as it had seen political groups clashing.

Coun Heseltine said: “It needs a degree of stability bringing to it, rather than political in-fighting that doesn’t do anybody any good. We are there to help the residents and businesses of North Yorkshire, not be pulling each other to bits.

“My views are pretty well known. I was brought up on a Dales farm, with traditional values and we’re just putting our thoughts together how that stability can be brought to the governance of North Yorkshire.”

Coun Les said the council needed stability to deliver the essential services it provided residents.

He said: “In no way have we ever mentioned anything that could be described as threatening tactics. It has been entirely a discussion about where they see their priorities and how we could work together going forward,”

When asked if there had been any discussions with the Independent members about double devolution, Coun Les replied that double devolution was a policy of the authority that would be delivered and in August pilot schemes to transfer powers to town and parish councils would be considered.

Coun Les refused to comment on the outcome of the talks with the Independent members, saying discussions were ongoing.

Any potential proposals for the Conservative group to work with councillors outside the party would have to be put to an extraordinary meeting of the council’s 45 Tory members.

He said: “I do find it absolutely scurrilous that I, or anybody connected to me, is doing anything that could be described as bully-boy tactics. I think that would be completely counter-productive, driving people in the other direction.”