BREAKING NEWS: New leader for Fenland Council tonight - but by the narrowest of margins

Chief executive of Fenland Council  Paul Medd talking to Cllr John Clark Chief executive of Fenland Council Paul Medd talking to Cllr John Clark

Thursday, May 1, 2014
8:28 PM

The new leader of Fenland Council will be councillor John Clark – making it a double victory for March in six days.

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Last Friday March councillor Steve Count was voted in as leader of the Conservative group on Cambridgeshire County Council.

And tonight March councillor John Clark beat deputy council leader Chris Seaton to become leader of the ruling Tory group on Fenland Council.

Next Thursday Cllr Clark will signal a remarkable political comeback when he is voted in as leader of Fenland Council – nine months after his spectacular resignation from former leader Alan Melton’s cabinet.

Voting for the new leader tonight was close – I am told Cllr Clark secured 17 votes compared to Cllr Seaton’s 15 votes.

However with most if not all of the 10 strong cabinet which Cllr Clark left likely to have voted for Cllr Seaton this will be seen by most as a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.

Cllr Clark’s departure last summer was acrimonious and prompted a vote of confidence in the then leader Alan Melton. When that vote secured Cllr Melton continuation in his role – following a bitter row over whether Cllr Clark, as finance portfolio holder, was kept in the dark over a land deal – the March councillor stormed out.

He also later told Tory agent Debbie Clarke he would not be standing in next May’s district council elections but once rumours of a second confidence vote in Cllr Melton gained momentum, he had a change of heart.

Last month Cllr Melton was warned he was unlikely to win a second challenge to his leadership, prompted in the main by his former friend and one time Cabinet colleague Jan French, indicating she could no longer support him.

Councillor Kit Owen, ousted from Cabinet last year after a conduct committee hearing into misuse of a council computer, also decided he would no longer support Cllr Melton. Their behind the scenes planning led to a fresh trawl of Conservative councillors in search of a no confidence vote but Cllr Melton resigned before that could happen.

Cllr Clark will now become leader for at least a year, although one immediate concern will be to secure his nomination as a Conservative ward councillor. Although, technically, the closing date has come and gone without his name on the slate, the NE Cambs Conservative Association will be voting in June on whether to agree ‘exceptional circumstances’ means he should still be allow to put his name forward.

That, however, will be additionally complicated by the number of Conservatives wanting the three nominations for his March east ward that include octogenarian sitting councillor Bernard Keane, sitting councillor Fred Yeulett, town councillor Gavin Philpot and town mayor Andrew Pugh.

Among early departures from the cabinet at Fenland Council will be Councillor Pop Jolley, much criticised for his handling of the £50,000 re-branding of the Fenland leisure centres.

Jobs for Cllr French and Cllr Owen are expected to be announced – but neither is expected to join Cllr Clark’s cabinet.

Instead Cllr French is widely tipped to replace Councillor John Chambers as head of what will become a strengthened overview and scrutiny committee.

And there was speculation tonight that Councillor Kit Owen might be offered the chairmanship of the planning committee.

Both Councillor Fred Yeulett and Councillor Will Sutton – the latter who effectively headed John Clark’s ‘campaign’- will be rewarded with senior posts in the new administration.

It is probable Cllr Clark will offer a senior role to Wisbech mayor Councillor Sam Hoy, although with her new career outside of politics taking off she may be reluctant to accept a post at this time.

Former Cambridgeshire County Council leader Martin Curtis had been a supporter of Cllr Clark and he, too, can expect to be offered a cabinet role.

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