Labour set to take over Rugby council after agreement with Lib Dems

Rugby Borough Council is no longer under Conservative control for the first time in 20 years
-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)

The leader of Rugby’s Liberal Democrats revealed how the Conservatives had done too little too late to hold onto power at Rugby Borough Council. Labour is set to take control next week after signing up to a confidence and supply arrangement – a formal but non-binding agreement to vote together on big issues – with the Lib Dems.

With 14 out of borough’s 42 seats up for grabs in May’s local elections, Labour gained three from the Conservatives who had spent the previous 12 months in charge of a minority administration.

It meant Labour moved on to 15 seats overall with the Tories still the biggest party on 17 and the Lib Dems on 10. Any party requires 22 seats or more to have a majority and form a cabinet outright.

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That meant the incumbent Conservative leadership would have carried on but a vote to oust them is now set to take place at an extraordinary meeting of full council on Wednesday, June 5 (7pm).

‘Urgent and honest assessment” required

A document has been published outlining the principle behind the Labour-Liberal agreement, which includes “an urgent and honest assessment of the current culture within the council”.

It continues: “Within this there needs to be a commitment to seeking to improve the standard of reporting with clearer focus on anticipated outcomes, evidence-based decision making, financial implications, KPIs (key performance indicators), risk analysis and general scenario planning”.

It adds that backing for the big items will be “decided on a case-by-case basis” but with a “full intention wherever possible… to reach a consensus on policy and budget decisions before full council meetings”.

Councillor Jerry Roodhouse (Lib Dem, Paddox) stressed his group’s focus on improved customer service and regeneration plans for Rugby town centre while lifting the lid on why Labour was chosen.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service Labour’s plan had been “close to what we put forward” and that the council needed “a refresh” after two decades of Tory rule.

A statement from the Conservatives said a “generous offer” of a coalition had been made to the Lib Dems. Asked whether anything different had come forward after that, Cllr Roodhouse replied: “It did in the end but by then we were so far down the track with Labour, we were just waiting for Labour’s national executive to sign it off, it was too late.

“I was very clear ahead of the election that there was an opportunity to present to Rugby residents something on which they could make judgements – Labour did that, the Conservatives didn’t.

“Then (after the election) we said to both parties ‘make us an offer’. Two sides of A4, bullet pointed. We didn’t really get anything out of the Conservatives other than portfolio positions, that was not exactly what we were looking for.

“If they had said we need to do more about customer care, possibly restructuring the council, sharpening the focus on more investment in social housing, that would be offering something different.”

Cllr Roodhouse said a “key point” was the commitment to developing a customer charter for residents who are “sick and tired of phones and emails not being answered”.

Review this time next year

The plan will run for a year and be reviewed ahead of 2025-26 despite there being no borough elections in May 2025.

In the meantime, Cllr Roodhouse hopes to see less rancour between Labour and the Tories.

“As we said at the election, it is like two tribes going to war,” he said.

“They won’t work with each other which I think is sad, but that is clearly the position.”

Asked whether he anticipated any movement on that, Cllr Roodhouse replied: “I hope so.

“My style is to work collaboratively. We have to work in partnership with the NHS, county council and everyone else, we need to be doing more of that anyway, so my mission over the next year or two is to hopefully get to that more progressive way while also getting some improvements to the town centre.”

He also stressed that this should not be viewed as a formal coalition with Labour.

“The phrase is progressive politics and that is what this is, grown-up politics, but if we don’t agree with Labour they know we will vote against them,” he said.

“Likewise, if the Tories have a really good idea then we might have a chat with them and see where we go.

“We are the Liberal Democrats and we are our own party, we will make up our own minds on whatever the issue may be.

“If you go into a coalition, you are part of that administration that makes those decisions and it can get a bit messy at that point.”

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