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Shock Council Move as Leader Reeves Hands Over Power To R4GV’s Joss Bigmore

Published on: 5 May, 2020
Updated on: 6 May, 2020

Cllrs Joss Bigmore and Caroline Reeves

In a shock move, Guildford Borough Council leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) is handing over the leadership to Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch).

A new pact between the council’s two main political parties groups also involves a new eight-member Executive, equally shared between the two parties, with four senior Lib Dem councillors, Fiona White (Westborough), David Goodwin (Onslow), Pauline Searle (Stoughton), and Angela Goodwin (Friary & St Nicolas), leaving the Executive.

Cllr Reeves said: “During the course of the last municipal year, following the elections in May 2019 there have been a number of conversations around a more shared approach to the Executive. I gave my word that I would review the Executive at the anniversary of the election and that is what I have done.”

See also: Council Leader Says Agreement On Leadership Yet to be Finalised

She is set to formally announce the new arrangement tonight (May 5) at the full council meeting and this seems to have caught many councillors by surprise.

Paul Spooner, leader of the eight-member Conservative group tweeted:

And Labour member James Walsh added:The new eight-councillor Executive will be:

Lib Dem members:

Caroline Reeves (Friary & St Nicolas) Housing and Development Control; Jan Harwood (Merrow) Climate Change; Julia McShane (Westborough) Community; and James Steel (Westborough) Environment.

R4GV members:

Joss Bigmore (Christchurch) Service Delivery; John Rigg (Holy Trinity) Regeneration; Tim Anderson (Clandon & Horsley) Resources (including finance); and John Redpath (Holy Trinity) Economy.

Revised GBC Executive. This replaces an earlier version. The expected changeover date, subject to full council approval, has been put back from July to September. Joss Bigmore, not Jan Harwood, will be deputy leader until then.

The formal handover is tentatively scheduled for September (an earlier version of this story stated July) but that is said to depend on circumstances of the Covid pandemic at that time.

Cllr Bigmore said: “This agreement was finalised early this year after six months’ experience working together. The changes were planned for May, around the anniversary of the GBC election, but the timetable will be slightly delayed due to Covid-19. Caroline has done an outstanding job leading the borough’s efforts to fight this horrible virus and it would be counter-productive to change leader while this battle goes on.”

This new arrangement, it is understood, will run for two years, with the leadership reverting to the Liberal Democrats for the last year before elections in 2023. The change to the Executive takes effect on May 19.

Power at the borough council has been finely balanced since the 2019 election. With the support of most of the Tory group, Cllr Reeves was able to defeat a challenge from the Residents for Guildford and Villages after their unexpected widespread success. In their first election, the party secured 15 seats and now have 16 since their group has been joined by Diana Jones (Tillingbourne) of the Green Party.

R4GV’s success was recognised with a negotiated allocation of one and then two Executive positions but the new party remained dissatisfied.

Political Group Standings at GBC

The distribution of seats should put the Conservative group, with eight, in a powerful position but the group is believed to have its own internal issues and policy differences and political history between the groups and individuals makes effective use of their votes difficult.

Some tensions have also become apparent between GGG and R4GV, ostensibly natural allies, while the two Labour councillors supported Cllr Reeves in the leadership election, perhaps preferring not to encourage the emergence of a purely local political party.

But now, with an agreement reached between the two main parties, the votes of the smaller parties become largely irrelevant.

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test 6 Responses to Shock Council Move as Leader Reeves Hands Over Power To R4GV’s Joss Bigmore

  1. Brian Creese Reply

    May 5, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    This time last year, at the Guildford Borough Council elections, the Lib Dems persuaded many Labour supporters to vote for them to “Stop Brexit”. Sadly many heard these siren voices and the Lib Dems became the lead party in the new council. However voting Lib Dem did not “Stop Brexit” and the Lib Dems formed an alliance with the R4GV group which has been less than dynamic so far, and has now surpassed itself with a bit of old-fashioned and nasty power politics at a time when the country is experiencing its greatest crisis for a generation.

    How will the putsch by R4GV members help Guildford ride out the Covid-19 storm we may ask? An irresponsible coalition partner has acted against a weak and ineffective leadership at a time of national crisis to further destabilise this wobbly alliance.

    Frankly, the people of Guildford deserve better. Not for the first time (think 2010) voting Lib Dem rather than Labour has brought about the worst of all results.

    Brian Creese is a spokesperson for Guildford Labour

  2. Sue Hackman Reply

    May 5, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    Crikey! Is this what Lib Dem voters voted for? I love Lib Dems because they are doers and do-gooders, but they are not great leaders. In Guildford, they seem to have dropped the reins of power in favour of hands-on project work.

    The thing about being elected to power is that you are expected to use it, not give it away. The strategic roles on Guildford Council have been given over to a motley residents group with strong Tory leanings but little forward-facing coherence.

    What went wrong there? Did the Lib Dems get bored with strategy and tired of leadership? I hope the electorate remember this at the next election and vote for a party that is willing to drive policies and think strategically. Next time, vote Labour.

  3. Mike Carter Reply

    May 6, 2020 at 7:04 am

    Voting Lib Dem in a Local election could never stop Brexit just as voting Tory wouldn’t assist it. It is disingenuous to suggest that Brexit played any role in local elections or that Lib Dem voters are so stupid as to think it might. The disastrous and abominable Local Plan was rightly a far more significant issue.

  4. John Baylis Reply

    May 6, 2020 at 9:13 am

    Common sense has reigned. Let’s wish them well.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 6, 2020 at 11:27 am

    This is very welcome news. Now perhaps we will see a review of the disastrous Tory Local Plan, which is what most voters voted for.

    A shame that Cllr Reeves retains the development role, as she is too pro-development.

  6. H Trevor Jones Reply

    May 9, 2020 at 11:07 am

    I like to see people working together in politics for the common good and don’t really care about parties as such. In local elections, as a voter in a ward with three seats, I usually vote for candidates of two or three different parties, people I know personally (usually) and people I think will be best to represent not only my own interests but the common good. And, not least, people with whom I can easily communicate when I wish to share my own opinions.

    So at face value, from what I’ve read, it sounds as if the latest changes are a good thing, although I hope the combined group will also take seriously constructive contributions from Labour and Conservative council members as well as their own Lib Dem and R4GV colleagues.

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