NOTE: This content is old - Published: Friday, May 17th, 2019.
A former Labour deputy has declared he will never forgive his former party after branching out on his own.
Bernie Attridge quit party politics after almost 30 years at the start of the month as he claimed the fall out from his sacking from cabinet by ex-Flintshire Council leader Aaron Shotton had made his position untenable.
He initially joining the New Independents on the authority but has now decided to launch a new independent group including Cllrs Carol Ellis, Helen Brown and George Hardcastle, who used to be part of a separate faction.
The leader of the newly established Flintshire Independents said he had become disillusioned with national politics, and blasted Labour’s treatment of former Alyn and Deeside AM Carl Sargeant, who died days after he was sacked from the Welsh Government cabinet in 2017.
He also described the party’s UK leader Jeremy Corbyn as ‘a laughingstock’.
Cllr Attridge said the main aim of the new group was to put residents first and put a stop to the significant increases in council tax experienced by ratepayers in the county.
But he acknowledged some people may be cynical of his stance having been part of an administration which backed rises of 6.7 per cent and 8.75 per cent in the last two years.
Reflecting on a turbulent few months, the Connah’s Quay representative said: “It has been very hard, but now I’m not tied to the Labour Party.
“I will always try and do what’s best for residents and I’ve had nothing but anger from residents once they knew we were putting council tax up.
“I know people will say ‘Hang on, you put it up and you were part of it’ but that was part of a political grouping and I had a senior role within the council.
“Now residents have said it’s unaffordable, they’re struggling and they’re choosing whether to eat or heat.
“I’m a socialist and I’ll be a socialist till I die, but as far as the national scene of politics and Welsh Labour goes, I’ll never forgive them for what I believe they did to my friend Carl Sargeant.
“Jeremy Corbyn is an absolute laughingstock and in the ward I represent, which is strong Labour, people have said they will never ever vote for Labour again.”
Council tax rises have become a major bone of contention for many people living in Flintshire with increases above the rate seen in most other areas of Wales.
When setting the budget for this year, the Labour group said it had little choice as the authority is one of the lowest funded in the country in terms of its settlement from the Welsh Government.
However, Carol Ellis, who has taken on the role of deputy leader of the independent group, said one of its first moves would be to table a motion asking the council to cap any increase at 4.5 per cent for next year.
The Buckley Mountain representative also highlighted the salaries of senior staff as an area where savings could be made, as well as reducing the current number of cabinet members.
She said: “The vision is to put the residents first because there is a feeling that it’s not generally the councillors that are running this authority.
“You only have to look at the council tax debate when there were skits that it was only the same price as the Daily Mail or a cup of coffee per week, but that’s alright for these people who are on a lot of money, but it’s not if you’re on the poverty line.
“Last year, we had the Holiday Hunger programme at play schemes where Buckley Town Council distributed some of the meals.
“The children would be waiting for the food and it was really sad that if they hadn’t gone to the play scheme, they wouldn’t have been fed that day.
“That tells it’s own story that kids are going hungry, and that’s not because their families have got a lot of spare change.”
Cllr Ellis added the group would also establish a network of independent councillors to hold Labour to account, and encourage more women and young people to enter politics.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).