Lib Dems join Tories in Ipswich deal

>By Graham DinesPolitical EditorTHE Liberal Democrats have rejected pleas to join a Labour led administration in Ipswich and have entered a power sharing agreement with the Conservatives.


By Graham Dines

Political Editor

THE Liberal Democrats have rejected pleas to join a Labour led administration in Ipswich and have entered a power sharing agreement with the Conservatives.

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The Tories and Lib Dems are expected to take charge of the borough next week, ending more than 25 years of Labour control of the council.

Following June's local elections in which Labour lost heavily to the Tories and Lib Dems, the Lib Dems were furious that the Labour Party used the casting vote of the mayor to take advantage of the absence of two opposition councillors to keep control of the council.

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With 23 councillors out of a total of 48, Labour this week urged the seven Lib Dems to join them in a power sharing deal. But the move blew up in its face when the other parties decided to end Labour's quarter century of control.

In a joint statement yesterday, the Tories and Lib Dems announced they had "agreed to form a loose coalition in the best interests of the people of the town.

They continued: "There are a number of major issues which need to be addressed urgently, including transport, arts, leisure, housing, and proposals to move from Civic Centre.

"Most pressing, however, is the question of the Budget for 2005/6 and its potential impact on council tax, following a further significant reduction in central Government funding.

"Labour has chosen this crucial period to offer its resignation if it does not have Liberal Democrat support. Consequently, it has abdicated its responsibilities for the town's continuing prosperity."

The coalition will be headed by Tory leader Dale Jackson, and another Tory Elizabeth Harsant will be deputy. They will be supported on the ruling executive by three Liberal Democrats, two of whom will have portfolios, and a further four Conservative portfolio holders.

Although 70% of voters backed no Labour councillors in last June's elections, deputy Labour leader David Ellesmere said Lib Dem voters would "horrified" that their party was backing the Tories.

"We believed that with crucial decisions facing the council this autumn, Ipswich needed an executive which would run the borough without the risk of defeat.

"That's why we approached the Lib Dems. It is a nonsense to say we have abdicated our responsibility – we were trying to establish a stable administration."

The composition of the council is 23 Labour, 17 Tories, and 7 Lib Dems. One other Tory councillor, currently suspended by the Local Government Standards Board, will resume his council work in February. Next elections to the council are in May 2006.

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