The new Labour leader of Scarborough Council has said it is time for an overhaul of the authority and a look again at some of the key decisions coming up, including its deal with Flamingo Land for the Futurist site.
Cllr Steve Siddons was today elected leader of the council after standing unopposed following last week’s local election.
Although the Labour Party gained only 13 of the 46 seats up for grabs, three fewer than the Conservatives and one fewer than the number of independents, Cllr Siddons secured enough support to lead the authority for the next four years.
Within moments of securing his position the leader said he would change the way decisions were made, scaling back the cabinet-led system of the previous Conservative administration.
Cllr Siddons said: “I’m feeling happy for the people of the borough think that people have demanded a change and want something different and I hope that people understand that what we have done today is make a start and get on with the process.”
Cllr Siddons said that he would be eliminating a number of cabinet positions, instead having three members who mirror the council’s director structure, with a number of committees created to give more councillors a voice in the authority and in decision making.
He added: “I think there is a lot to look at and explore. It is not going to be done overnight but I would like to see a change in the way we make decisions, to take them out of the hands out of a small number of people, a lot of which is done very secretively, and start to engage with all the members in the chamber and the wider public beyond. I think if we do that, yeah there will be difficult decisions to make, but if we make them together we can make what we think are the right ones and stand by it.”
Cllr Siddons said the council was bound by the Local Government Act which would not allow it to go back the old committee system of governance.
He said: “All [the councillors] in that chamber have skills and I think we need to harness them and not close them off. They have been elected by people to make a difference here and we have got to put a mechanism in place to allow them to do that.”
He said there had been no decision if the three cabinet positions would be filled by Labour councillors or would draw on councillors from across the chamber.
Given the fact no party has a majority, Cllr Siddons accepted it could be difficult to get some decisions through and compromise would be needed.
He said: “I think life is a compromise, we’ve always got to compromise but I think that if we continue with the cabinet system purely with the share of votes for the share of parties as there is now we would get nothing through.
“If we work in this more collaborative way then we are asking people not to be negative, not to say what they don’t like but what they do like and what they think is right. It will be hard, it won’t be easy but I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Cllr Siddons also laid out his priorities for the council, including tackling some of the biggest and most controversial decisions taken by previous administrations.
These include the council’s decision to grant prefered bidder status to Flamingo Land to build a £14m attraction on the former Futurist site on the town’s South Bay, the agreement to redevelop the North Bay with Benchmark Leisure, which built the Alpamare waterpark but has been unable to get a planned cinema complex off the ground, and also the closure of public toilets across the borough.
He said: “The North Bay contract which has lasted for almost 20 years comes to an end next year. The developer may come to us and say they want to extend the contract but I would be unsupportive of that. I would be more than happy to talk to that developer, along with other developers, to see what is best for the borough. It may be them, it may not be them.
“It’s the same with Flamingo Land, the progress there has come about in a very bitty way. We started off making decisions about the Futurist then we had preferred bidder status and all that, which I understand, you can’t have companies investing time and effort into things if they haven’t got some security.
“So we have to look at our legal position but there is an awful lot of opposition to the proposals, some people think they are great so I have to know where that balance lies.
“With a new council, a new leader it’s time to look at that again and ensure we get the scheme that’s right for that site. Not what’s right for a developer or a particular political party but what’s right for the people.”
The first priority for Cllr Siddons’ administration will be looking to increase the number of public toilets in the borough, one of Labour’s key manifesto pledges.
“I think looking to see if we can reverse [closure of toilets] will be one of the first things we look at,” he said.
“There are several closures across the borough which have hit a nerve with the public and we need to look again at those again. Let’s get them back open and then look at what we do with them. It is something the council should provide, no-one else can provide it, we have to accept the decisions that have been made, which may have been made for financial reasons, are not the right ones.”
Scarborough Council will meet again on Monday to elect a Mayor and also appoint councillors on to committees.