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Former leader responds to ousting as rebels deny they acted out of revenge

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: February 26, 2014

Burton Mail 2011 Business Awards at the Pirelli Stadium Leader ESBC - Richard Grosvenor

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AS the motion calling for his resignation as the leader of East Staffordshire Borough Council was carried, Councillor Richard Grosvenor was left with feelings of sadness and betrayal.

This was personal, he thought, and that was upsetting and disappointing.

“We have done, as a group, so much for the borough in the last five years. We have made mistakes, but we have made them with the best of intentions.

“For me, last night was not about how the council was run. It was personal,” the former leader told the Mail yesterday, after he was overthrown by a motion supported by Labour and Independent members of the authority. A year ago, the four Independent councillors – the so-called Tory Rebels – had been part of his own leading group.

Just before the motion was discussed, councillors approved a balanced five-year budget. No other council in the UK has that at the moment, he said.

Councillor Grosvenor was accused by colleagues on the authority of being a bully and a dictator; something with which he took great umbrage.

“If I was those things, it wouldn’t upset me, but I’m not. If I was, I’d be in a group of one. Ignore your members at your peril,” said the councillor, who has been leader of the council since 2009.

He blamed the self-interest of the Tory rebels, claiming he tried to work with them last year, but the olive branch offered by himself, the Conservative Association and other members of the group, was not accepted.

A Labour councillor said at the meeting that if Councillor Grosvenor was in the same position, with a chance to take a majority, he would do the same.

But the councillor, who hopes to remain in charge of the Conservative group and lead the campaign to the next election, said that was not the case.

“We would not have done the same, because I don’t think it’s right that the tail wags the dog. It’s not right we have four people and you have got to keep them happy to maintain one group. It’s not democratic. I’m amazed they have done it,” he said.

The new leader, Labour’s Councillor Julian Mott, brushed aside concerns that there could be tensions between the two factions, telling the Mail that ‘the proof of the pudding would be in the eating’.

It is 13 years since he last sat at the head of the council, but he said he and his cooperative group were looking forward to tackling new challenges in an open and inclusive way – something which had not happened under the Conservative administration.

“I think Councillor Grosvenor wanted to keep the decision making to himself and one other, I want to involve as many people from the council as possible.

“It will be a much wider decision making process. We will listen to what people have to say.”

There are ‘exciting times’ ahead, he said, adding that he was looking forward to tackling the challenges which may arise in the run up to the next election.

Councillor Mott has a firm belief in the capability of his group to lead the council. “I don’t think we would have put this forward if we didn’t think we could do a good job,” he said in his first day in the role. “We will have a strong cabinet of members who have got experience and we will use that as best we can.”

He has yet to announce his cabinet, but it is understood the Independents – Councillors Malcolm Barrett, Robert Hardwick, Peter Ball and Nathan Birnie – will be given roles. Councillor Birnie is tipped to become the new deputy mayor, according to members of the East Staffordshire Conservative Association.

Councillor Hardwick, speaking on behalf of the rebel group, denied they had joined with Labour just so they could secure cabinet positions, which they had been denied before leaving the Conservative group.

Instead, they were reacting to a ‘closed’ council from which they felt they had been excluded since resigning the Tory whip last year, despite the fact they were still elected members.

“If we would have wanted revenge, we would have done things a lot quicker than we have done them. All we wanted to do was be part of an inclusive council, and the administration that will go forward will be inclusive,” he said.

There was ‘no pleasure’ for the group, he said, in ousting Councillor Grosvenor, but it was something which had to be done.

Responding to claims the four councillors had exchanged promises of support for cabinet positions, he said: “The administration will be made up of members of all parties.

“We (the Independents) hold the balance of power. Why wouldn’t we want to be there and be part of a more inclusive council?

“We’re not there to wield power for our own benefit. We believe the new administration will be best for the council and residents.”

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