A crushing blow was dealt to Labour and Conservative councillors last night as the Liberal Democrat leader of Stockport Council survived a no confidence vote by the skin of her teeth.
The no confidence vote was called in light of revelations revealed by MM last month that unveiled a £5million deficit which had accumulated within the wholly council-owned company Solutions SK.
An independent investigation, published last week by Cobbetts and KPMG, confirmed that the loss had not been the result of fraud, but rather a faulty system of accounting and a lack of communication between Solutions SK and Stockport Council.
Syd Lloyd, Conservative Councillor for Bredbury Green and Romiley, told MM that the vote had been called as the Liberal Democrat council executives were ‘incompetent’ in managing their responsibilities with regard to SSK.
Ahead of the vote, he said: “We have tabled a vote of no confidence because we believe that they have failed and are still failing to provide an effective level of scrutiny to this council owned company.
“Had they been doing their job properly in scrutinising the financial information of this company, the problems would have been highlighted much earlier. Significant sums of money could have been saved for the Stockport Council taxpayer.”
As a result, Stockport Council leader Sue Derbyshire’s political career was hanging in the balance as the council, which consists of 28 Liberal Democrats, 21 Labour members, 10 Conservatives and four Independents, took to the town hall last night for the no confidence vote.
But crucially, the four Independent councillors voted alongside the 28 Liberal Democrats at the Extraordinary Council Meeting, resulting in a 32 – 30 defeat for the Labour/Conservative alliance.
After the vote, a relieved Sue Derbyshire said: “This was a cynical political stunt. Instead of taking up my offer to participate in the development of the recovery plan for Solutions SK, the Labour and Conservative leaders refused to actually even read the full investigation report; possibly because it did not give the answer they wanted.
“They jointly called an extraordinary council meeting which has only served to further damage the reputation of SSK and endanger the jobs of staff and the services to residents, but with no positive suggestions for a way forward.
“It is also strange as, until recently, senior members of both groups had been members of the Contributor’s Committee of SSK which was being attacked in the no confidence motion.”
In the meantime the Liberal Democrat Group has been formulating a plan with SSK to develop a recovery plan.
Mrs Derbyshire added: “I am glad that the Independent councillors, who have kept a close eye on this issue, agreed with our amendment that it is time to put the company on a firm footing to preserve jobs and services, rather than to try to score political points.”
Iain Roberts, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Cheadle & Gatley who is also the executive member for economic development and regeneration, was also keen to express his relief with how to vote panned out.
He said: “Solutions SK has had well documented issues, with a recovery plan now in place. Labour and the Conservatives worked together to try and pin the blame for the problems on the ruling Liberal Democrat group at Stockport Council.
“I don’t believe the evidence supports that claim, and the opposition parties failed to persuade any of the four independent councillors to vote with them so their attempt to pass a motion of no confidence failed.
“I hope all parties can now work together to ensure Solutions SK moves forward as a successful company.”
Councillor Patrick McAuley said: “Fundamentally Labour and the Tories were trying to replace the current administration charged with addressing the issues faced by SSK with former executive members who had an equal responsibility as members of the contributors committee.
“It was in Cllr David Whites’ portfolio and he is now currently a leading voice in the Labour party who would no doubt make up an alternative executive. This principally made the original motion untenable.
“The amendment I felt reflected a more robust approach to dealing with the crisis that aimed to implement the proposals put down by Cobbetts.
“It is a shambolic and chaotic way to behave and think that last night’s vote reflects that Stockport just doesn’t trust Labour or the Tories to run SMBC.”