New leader of Southend Council pledges end to “bully boy tactics” and toxic atmosphere

Southend Council’s new leader has vowed to tackle the “toxic” atmosphere and “bully boy tactics” in the council chamber.

Stephen George, who took over the Labour group after Ian Gilbert was ousted by one vote, announced his new coalition cabinet at a meeting on Thursday.

The new cabinet is made up of Labour, Lib Dem, and Independent Group councillors, in what is being branded the “Southend City Partnership”.

Cllr George said: “Over the last two years the atmosphere has become increasingly toxic and unedifying to say the least, to any outsider let alone any resident looking in.

“I want us, as a city council, to undergo cultural reset. I’d like to return to a time not that long ago when we had heated and often passionate debate but also respect for each other.

“To pre-COVID days – when debate was sensible, mature and grown-up, and not a case of who shouts the loudest is heard most.

“I want an end to the bully boy tactics and bad language employed by some on both sides of this chamber and a return to the days of proper adult conversation.”

Cllr George made light of allegations that those who backed him as leader belong to the far-left group Momentum, and said he remains a “left-of-centre” politician.

Contrary to earlier claims that Councillor Kay Mitchell would become the new deputy leader, Cllr George announced Lib Dem Group leader Carole Mulroney would take the title for the next six months.

Independent councillor Martin Terry will then assume the role.

In a statement, the Lib Dems said: “Once again, we have formed a joint administration with Labour and the Independents and, after our successes in the recent local elections, we have a much stronger majority in the council and can now see our way to moving forward taking the city to a brighter future.”

Former leader Cllr Gilbert will remain in the cabinet as councillor responsible for economic recovery, regeneration and housing. Labour’s Cllr Mitchell joins the cabinet with a responsibility for adult social care and integration.

Cllr Terry will continue his role as councillor responsible for public protection, while Cllr Mulroney will remain cabinet member for environment, culture and tourism.

Laurie Burton remains as councillor responsible for children and learning, with Paul Collins as councillor for asset management and inward investment. Stephen Wakefield was confirmed as councillor for highways, transport and parks.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter