Central Beds Council exec member confirms plans to 'step down' amid political spat

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Another Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) executive member has announced his plans to “step down” at a meeting where the new leader of the political administration is chosen.

The strength of feeling between members of Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive has been revealed in the spat among members of the local authority’s political administration.

Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny is standing down as council leader, after a year in charge since the May 2023 local elections, when the Conservatives ceased to be the largest group on CBC.

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Before he announced his decision, it emerged that deputy leader and Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker made a bid for the leadership, which resulted in her being sacked from her executive roles.

Central Bedfordshire Council headquarters, and right, Councillor Steve Watkins. Images: National World/CBC.Central Bedfordshire Council headquarters, and right, Councillor Steve Watkins. Images: National World/CBC.
Central Bedfordshire Council headquarters, and right, Councillor Steve Watkins. Images: National World/CBC.

A new leader of the administration is set to be chosen at the next CBC full council meeting on July 18. A candidate or candidates will be nominated, and the local authority’s members will vote for who they want to see take over from councillor Zerny.

In the latest development, Independent Biggleswade West councillor Steve Watkins has revealed he plans to resign as executive member for business, housing and public assets at that meeting.

Asked about his intentions, he told the local democracy reporting service: “You’re quite correct that I’ve indicated I’ll step down as an executive member when the next leader of the council is elected.

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“A new leader will doubtless have their own team in mind,” he explained. “And, regardless, I wouldn’t support an Independent administration led by anyone who plotted and planned to dethrone councillor Zerny, who’s done a remarkable job.

“I offer my support to anyone outside of that class of person who can put together a new administration. I’ll be a critical friend, but a friend nonetheless.

“I’ll continue to serve residents as a councillor of course, which I’ve been privileged to do for seven years now.”

Councillor Watkins was first elected to CBC as a Conservative, but resigned from the party in 2021 criticising its culture. He was a member of the Tory Party since the age of 16 and said in December 2021 he “always supported them locally and nationally”.

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He added: “I’ve been increasingly vocal in cabinet about the poor performance of some of my colleagues. My view was that I should be able to do this privately.”

A CBC spokesman said: “Councillor Watkins hasn’t resigned, but will remain as an executive member until the next full council.

“At that council meeting, a new leader will be appointed and then he or she decides which councillors are appointed to the executive.”

Two more CBC executive members left their roles on the Independent ruling administration prior to councillor Zerny’s decision to step aside.

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Independent Sandy councillor Simon Ford and Independent Houghton Conquest and Haynes councillor Rebecca Hares chose to resign. Councillor Ford has suffered ill health in the past year.

In his statement, councillor Zerny said: “I’ve always been clear that leading the council requires a solid and reliable team behind the leader, and the effort required for the above has taken its toll on many.

“It’s now time for me to hand over to a new leader and I’m confident I leave the council in safe hands.”