The Whitehill & Bordon Community Party has agreed a 'special arrangement' with East Hampshire District Council's Conservative group that gives the residents' group a seat on the council's top table for the next four years.
As part of the arrangement, community party leader Andy Tree will become deputy leader of East Hampshire District Council (EHDC) and a cabinet member for Whitehill & Bordon – one of two cabinet posts to be held by the residents' group – while the Conservatives will retain control of the council.
Cllr Tree says the deal effectively allows the community party to oversee EHDC strategy and policy in Whitehill, Bordon Lindford and Greatham.
But he insists the arrangement is not a traditional 'coalition', as Whitehill & Bordon Community Party members will be free to vote against the district council's Conservative group – meaning East Hampshire will remain a hung council, with no party or coalition holding a majority of seats.
It comes after the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party faced a backlash on Facebook for suggesting it could enter into a coalition with either the Conservatives or Lib Dems to share control of the district authority after winning its first six East Hampshire seats at the May 4 elections.
By comparison the Conservatives won 19 seats, down from 32 in 2019, the Liberal Democrats 14 in a dramatic election count at the Taro Leisure Centre in Petersfield. The Greens won two seats and Labour one, with an Independent completing the 43-strong line-up.
In a statement, printed in full at the bottom of this article, Cllr Tree said: "What became clear last week is that fellow residents voted for us and not Conservatives or Lib Dems and so many wanted neither of them to have power over Whitehill, Bordon, Lindford and Greatham at EHDC.
"This has given me a huge challenge as to how to ensure voter choice is respected but facing the reality that we only hold six seats out of 43 and need support from others to get what we want, with the Conservatives holding the most seats."
On the 'special arrangement' with the Conservatives, Cllr Tree added: "We have punched above our weight by negotiating delegated authority to me and other Whitehill & Bordon Community Party councillors to oversee EHDC strategy and policy in Whitehill, Bordon Lindford and Greatham, also with a commitment to look at delegating further powers to the town council which we control in full.
"The legal mechanism for this is for me to hold a cabinet position as deputy leader and portfolio holder for Whitehill & Bordon area and other Whitehill & Bordon Community Party members holding cabinet and assistant portfolio positions, which respects what residents voted for.
"Crucially, the deal agreed allows us to vote AGAINST any Conservative policy at EHDC that we feel would be detrimental to Whitehill, Bordon, Lindford and Greatham. This means we are not in a traditional 'coalition' or offering blind 'confidence and supply', instead keeping our independent ability to represent you and vote on what we think best for our community, which is what our group is all about."
He said more details will follow once formally approved at the annual meeting of East Hampshire District Council on Thursday.
Although the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party's arrangement is exclusively with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats will also be given chairmanship of the council's overview and scrutiny committee in a separate deal with the majority group.
'A better way forward' – Councillor Tree's statement in full
It has now been almost two weeks since our Whitehill & Bordon Community Party group won the six seats on East Hampshire District Council (EHDC), on 4 May. Having quite literally spent every day working on this (as my wife would confirm!), our group have now agreed and concluded a special arrangement moving forward. What is most exciting of all is the negotiated policy announcements that will follow in the coming weeks. Look out for them and we will be judged by what we actually ACHIEVE for you, within the context of what EHDC has the power to do.
What became clear last week is that fellow residents voted for us and not Conservatives or Lib Dems and so many wanted neither of them to have power over Whitehill, Bordon, Lindford and Greatham at EHDC! This has given me a huge challenge as to how to ensure voter choice is respected but facing the reality that we only hold 6 seats out of 43 and need support from others to get what we want, with the Conservatives holding the most seats. Also difficult when cllrs from other parts of East Hampshire (from all the parties) have their own agenda for their own area!
We are a localist grassroots party that puts our community first and is fighting for a fair share of EHDC resources for Whitehill, Bordon, Lindford and Greatham. Frankly, the Conservatives do not deserve to rule unchallenged but it is also a fantasy to think the Alton-centric Lib Dems are the answer to all our problems either.
A standard coalition where we would have to side with Conservatives or Lib Dems on every decision and be a 'poodle' like Lib Dems were to Conservatives at national level between 2010-15 was ultimately not acceptable to us and clearly not acceptable to fellow residents who kindly gave us feedback through social media and other channels. Thank you to all those who took the time to comment or contact me, it is appreciated.
The default and easy option would be to sit back, side with no one and allow Conservatives to carry on ruling over us in a minority administration, as the largest party. After a lot of thinking and work, we have come up with a bespoke and better option than all of the above...
We have punched above our weight by negotiating delegated authority to me and other Whitehill & Bordon Community Party Councillors to oversee EHDC strategy and policy in Whitehill, Bordon Lindford and Greatham, also with a commitment to look at delegating further powers to the town council which we control in full. The legal mechanism for this is for me to hold a cabinet position as Deputy Leader and portfolio holder for Whitehill & Bordon area and other Whitehill & Bordon Community Party members holding cabinet and assistant portfolio positions, which respects what residents voted for. More details will follow once formally approved Thur evening (17 May.)
Crucially, the deal agreed allows us to vote AGAINST any Conservative policy at EHDC that we feel would be detrimental to Whitehill, Bordon, Lindford and Greatham. This means we are not in a traditional 'coalition' or offering blind 'confidence and supply', instead keeping our independent ability to represent you and vote on what we think best for our community, which is what our group is all about.
Our written pledge before the election was: "We pledge to try and achieve results for our community by working constructively with councillors of ALL parties and on all levels, but to never shy away from fighting your corner if we feel Whitehill, Bordon, Lindford or Greatham are being short-changed!" Aside from having delegated powers for our area, we have sought to be responsible and create a new EHDC way of working that tries to bring all political sides together. The Conservatives are the largest party and remain in administration but the Lib Dems as second largest party now get a new meaningful role as Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee. This is something we have negotiated that they didn't hold before and will allow them to contribute as part of the greater team effort. The Lib Dems had already agreed to support the Conservative budget earlier this year and so this collaborative working has already been happening at local level.
I hope both Conservatives and Lib Dems will support us as we move forward and I expect the Conservative leadership to work hard to support our efforts. I will be listening to good ideas from both sides and at local level there is a better way than 'us and them!'
This is a new and untested way of working and we hope we will have your support moving forward. Look out for exciting policy announcements in the coming weeks and JUDGE US on what we achieve over the coming years, within the context of what EHDC has the power to do. We have not become the national government but we can make a positive difference! Thank you for reading.
Party leader, Whitehill & Bordon Community Party
A hung council - the pros and cons
East Hampshire District Council is to remain a hung council for the next four years with no party or coalition holding an overall majority, after the Whitehill and Bordon Community Party opted against forming a traditional coalition with either the Conservatives or Lib Dems.
While this scenario presents both advantages and challenges, it also offers an opportunity for collaborative decision-making and a diversity of viewpoints.
Let's delve into the pros and cons of East Hampshire's hung council.
- Collaboration and consensus: With no single party in control, decisions will require cross-party collaboration and consensus-building. This dynamic can foster cooperation, encouraging councilors to work together in finding solutions that best serve the interests of the district's residents. The absence of rigid party lines allows for a broader range of ideas to be considered, potentially leading to more innovative and inclusive policies.
- Balanced representation: A hung council often reflects a more accurate representation of the diverse political landscape within a district. The absence of an overwhelming majority ensures that the interests of different communities and viewpoints are adequately considered. This can lead to policies that are more balanced and reflective of the needs and aspirations of all residents, rather than favoring a particular party's agenda.
- Enhanced scrutiny: A hung council places a greater emphasis on scrutiny and accountability. With no dominant party to push through decisions, councilors are encouraged to thoroughly evaluate proposals, ensuring that they are robust and withstand rigorous scrutiny. This can lead to better governance and decision-making, as proposals are subject to more rigorous examination and debate.
- Potential for Gridlock: One of the primary concerns with a hung council is the potential for gridlock in decision-making. The absence of a clear majority can lead to protracted debates and difficulties in reaching consensus on key issues. This may result in delays in implementing important policies and addressing pressing matters that require immediate attention. The prolonged decision-making process can lead to frustration among residents who expect timely and effective governance.
- Lack of mandate and direction: Without a party in overall control, the council may lack a clear mandate and direction. This can create uncertainty and make it challenging to set long-term goals and priorities for the district. The absence of a strong governing party can also undermine public confidence in the council's ability to make decisive and effective decisions.
- Political instability: A hung council can contribute to political instability, particularly if factions form within the council, leading to competing interests and conflicting agendas. The absence of a clear majority may lead to power struggles and a fragmented council, making it difficult to achieve cohesive and unified governance. This can have wider implications for the district's political landscape and may erode trust in the democratic process.
What do you think?
Will the 'special arrangement' between the Conservatives and the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party help or hinder East Hampshire District Council over the next four years? Are Whitehill & Bordon voters happy with the community party striking a deal with the district's leading Tory group?