Burnley Council still leaderless during coronavirus crisis as ruling Executive crippled by infighting

"Rudderless" Burnley Borough Council is still without a leader, following the resignation on Friday of previous incumbent Charlie Briggs.

Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 1:06 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 1:08 pm

Coun. Briggs, who represents the Burnley and Padiham Independent Party, stepped down citing infighting among the Conservative group on the council, which had already led to two of its members - Couns Ivor Emo and Cosima Towneley - leaving the ruling Executive after falling out with new Tory leader Coun. Alan Hosker.

In his resignation statement, Coun. Briggs said: "It has become evident in the last few weeks that the Conservatives are crippled by infighting and have even removed their own Executive members.

"The Liberal Democrats have no intention of working with the current leadership of the Conservatives as they have a history with UKIP. This has made running the council in its present form untenable."

Burnley Town Hall

The Burnley Express understands that the Executive's two Liberal Democrat members, Couns Margaret Lishman and former MP Gordon Birtwistle, were also set to quit the Executive after discovering that Coun. Hosker had demanded to replace the two previous Tory members with himself and another.

It is thought that Coun. Hosker, a former UKIP and Brexit Party member, is deeply unpopular among fellow councillors with the Lib Dems saying they do not believe he is a "proper person for a role representing our town".

In a joint statement, Couns Birtwistle and Lishman said: "Firstly, this is the wrong time to make unnecessary changes. Burnley is facing massive challenges with the pandemic and we need to plan for health and economic recovery over the next few months.

"The Executive was working together to deliver the 10-point Plan for Recovery and our staff are fully committed to helping local people and bringing Burnley through this crisis. We have more important things to do than to play at power politics.

“Secondly, we do not believe that Coun. Hosker is a proper person for a leading role representing our town and managing services for our citizens. His style has been perceived as threatening and bullying and we will not risk that affecting the Council’s staff, particularly when they are working very hard to protect our town and its people.

"Coun. Hosker has been a member of three different parties during the last five years, and we have no reason to believe that his opinions have changed or developed.

"On the occasion of the recent banner associated with Burnley over a football stadium, he refused to join other party leaders in condemning that divisive action which presented our town in an unacceptable light.

The chaotic situation has left the council rudderless at a time of great uncertainty during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Labour, the largest group on the council, had already refused to work alongside Coun. Hosker, leading to the formation of the coalition of parties on the Executive.

Labour leader Coun. Mark Townsend said: "Being in charge is difficult and I’d like to thank Coun. Briggs for his work over the last 15 months leading the council through unprecedented times. Unfortunately this outcome has been on the cards for months as the coalition fell apart in front of us.

"For the good of the borough, during this horrendous health and jobs crisis, we need a stable council that can focus on the future, looking outwards rather than inwards.

"As the largest party on the council, the Labour Group understand our responsibilities towards achieving this and I’ll be consulting with colleagues over the coming days as to what should happen next."

It is thought the issue of the council leadership will be discussed at the next full council meeting on September 30th.

In the meantime, the council has contingency measures in place in its constitution, whereby the council’s chief executive Mick Cartledge can use his executive urgency powers as necessary to ensure council business can proceed as normal.