Two Conwy long-serving county councillors have quit Labour’s cohort within the authority after their group leader ousted a colleague from a committee chair.
Tudno ward member cllr Ronnie Hughes, a former leader of the council and a Labour stalwart, said he’d “never been in this position before in 30-odd years of being a councillor”.
Cllr Mike Priestley, who represents Marl ward, also left the group over the “unrest” surrounding the nomination for chairman of the council’s social care and health scrutiny committee. But he says he remains committed to the Welsh Labour Party.
The committee was already chaired by Labour councillor Penny Andow, who represents Pandy ward in Llanfairfechan and has a CV loaded with real-world experience in social care. She also lectures on the subject.
However Labour group leader cllr Chris Hughes was also put forward for the post and was ultimately appointed by a single vote, according to a source.
Because of its size the eight-strong Labour group only gets one scrutiny committee chair position and, under new Welsh Government regulations, it can vote on who among them takes the vacant role itself.
Cllr Harry Saville, Conservative member for Gogarth ward and deputy mayor of Llandudno
Normally there has to be a vote within the scrutiny meeting with members deciding whether to back nominations.
Two members of the Labour group were denied a vote on who would be chair of the committee because their subs were not paid.
Cllrs Ronnie Hughes and Priestley, who have more than 50 years service on the council between them, subsequently resigned over the way the affair was handled, but there is no suggestion either didn’t pay their subscriptions.
Cllr Harry Saville, Conservative member for Gogarth ward and deputy mayor of Llandudno, accused cllr Chris Hughes of “awarding himself a £9,000 pay rise”.
But cllr Chris Hughes said the move was carried out under the auspices of the Welsh Labour Party and categorically denied money was a motive for the move.
Chairman appointments attract an extra £8,700 a-year on top of members’ basic allowances of £14,218.
Cllr Ronnie Hughes, who served as Conwy council’s leader between 1999-2004, said the decision to quit hadn’t been taken lightly.
He said: “I put a lot of thought into it and the only way I could do it was to leave the group.
Conwy county council’s website shows cllr Ronnie Hughes and cllr Mike Priestley as without political affiliation
Picture: Conwy CBC website
“Things were done in a manner I am not used to and as far as I am concerned I am still the same person – nothing’s changed.”
Cllr Chris Hughes said three party members had not paid their Labour subscriptions and under party rules were not allowed to vote for the new chair.
He said they had time to pay before the vote and one did, two didn’t.
He added one member subsequently paid after the vote and he paid the subscription of the other member himself.
He said: “I was asked by members if I wanted to stand and there was a discussion within the group about the chair (of the social care and health scrutiny committee).
“A number of members felt there needed to be a change and other members felt there didn’t need to be a change.”
Answering claims that Ms Andow’s experience and knowledge in the field gave her an advantage in the role, he said: “I spent six years as chair of the customers scrutiny committee which included aspects of social services and two years as vice-chair.
“Undertaking a scrutiny role in relations to that field is a role in itself.”
Cllr Ronnie Hughes said he would remain part of Welsh Labour and added: “I haven’t changed my views on where the Labour Party is going but I have changed my views on a certain person.
“I will still be sitting with the opposition parties and I hope I can still contribute but I won’t be joining the Independent Group – I will go on my own and take what comes.”
Cllr Priestley also reaffirmed his commitment to the Welsh Labour Party and told the LDRS: “There has been unrest within the group and as such have taken myself away from it.
“I am 100 per cent committed to working for local residents at this difficult time.
“Since I made this decision I have had a lot of support from fellow councillors across the political spectrum and I would like to thank them for that.”
Cllr Saville said: “With decades of experience in social care, councillors from all parties thought that Penny was the right person – so much so, they re-elected her twice.
“This year, a legal technicality in the Welsh Assembly legislation that regulates how councils operate mean that the Labour Party is allowed to appoint the chairperson for this committee without a vote and in private.
“It now seems that Cllr. Hughes has used this technicality to get himself appointed as the Chairman, and effectively awarded himself a £9k pay rise without any sort of public vote or scrutiny.”
Ms Andow has declined to respond to requests for comment.