sarah-pochin-willaston-councillor - New Homes Bonus

Cheshire East councillors broke with convention to appoint a mayor who has not served as deputy – leading to a Conservative councillor leaving her seat on the Tory benches, writes Stephen Topping.

Conservative Cllr Steven Edgar was expected to be confirmed as Cheshire East Council’s mayor for 2020-21 having served as deputy this year, in line with previous years.

But the Labour-Independent Group administration claimed Cllr Edgar had not been impartial in his role, having served as a Conservative whip at the same time,.

So they nominated Bunbury Conservative Cllr Sarah Pochin (pictured) for the position instead.

The council’s top legal officer later confirmed Cllr Edgar had not broken any rules – but his nomination had already been turned down and Cllr Pochin was appointed.

Independent Cllr Craig Browne, deputy leader of CEC, said: “The Independent Group places great importance on the political impartiality of the position of mayor and we extend this to the position of deputy mayor.

“I have discussed with [Cllr Edgar] and given him the option to withdraw from this process, and to re-join a fresh process in 12 months’ time, having relinquished his political role.”

Cllr Brendan Murphy, leader of the Real Independent Group, hit out at the move as a ‘coup d’etat’ led by party politics.

“I find it astonishing now that a question is being raised whether [Cllr Edgar] should continue to the post of mayor,” he said.

“There has been a convention, and that convention should be continued, it should not just be abandoned at a moment.”

Cllr Andrew Kolker, Conservative, insisted CEC’s constitution only rules the mayor must relinquish political roles and not the deputy.

And Cllr Janet Clowes, the party’s group leader, said Cllr Edgar had now stepped down as whip to become mayor.

councillors - Burkhill and Edgar - Cheshire East Mayor
Cllr Edgar with current Mayor Cllr Burkhill

But Cllr Edgar lost the first vote to become mayor – with 31 votes for, 35 against and two abstentions – before independent Cllr Toni Fox nominated Cllr Pochin.

Cllr Fox said: “Questions are quite rightly being publicly raised by residents about the costs incurred by having a mayor and the value of the role.

“Cllr Pochin, in recognising these concerns, will endeavour as mayor to modernise the role to be more relevant to the residents of Cheshire East and seek to ensure that the mayor adds value to the community and economy.”

Conservatives hit out at the nomination, with Cllr Clowes suggesting it went against the “spirit of the Cheshire East mayoralty” and confirming Cllr Pochin did not have the backing of the party.

Cllr Paul Findlow, Conservative, added: “It might seem a clever thing to do find a disaffected member of your opposition and put them forward for the mayoralty.

“It is not clever – it is rather silly – and there will be a price to pay for it in terms of future cooperation, I suspect.”

Events took a further twist as Cllr Edgar relinquished his rights to confidentiality and asked Jan Bakewell, CEC’s monitoring officer, to confirm if he had received any complaints about a conflict of interests during his time as deputy mayor.

He added: “I have not had the opportunity to refute the complaints made. I stand condemned before you without trial.”

Ms Bakewell confirmed no complaints had been received and Cllr Edgar had not broken the constitution by holding both the deputy mayor and Conservative whip positions.

But he had already lost his nomination, and Cllr Pochin won the backing of council to become mayor with 33 votes for, 30 against and seven abstentions.

The controversy stepped up when the mayor-elect Cllr Pochin returned to her seat, as she was told sit away from the Conservative benches.

Cllr Sam Corcoran, CEC’s Labour leader, hit out at the Conservatives’ treatment of Cllr Pochin after she moved across the floor to sit close to the Labour-Independent Group benches.

He said: “All of us here have been elected and normally we would expect people to accept the results of an election after it has happened.”

“I hope I never have to sit through a meeting like this again,” added Cllr June Buckley, Liberal Democrat.

Meanwhile, Cllr David Marren, independent, was voted in as deputy mayor for 2020-21 – winning more votes than the Conservative group’s nominee, Cllr David Brown.

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