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Southampton City Council leader Richard Williams accused of 'farcical U-turn'
10:56am Friday 22nd June 2012 in News
Southampton’s new council leader has been accused of a farcical U-turn by appointing another efficiency tsar – just weeks after declaring he was axing the job when the last holder of the post resigned.
Cllr Keith Morrell quit as Cabinet member for efficiency and improvement just two weeks into the job in a policy split over the looming cuts and savings to balance the council’s books.
After coming under criticism for increasing the size of the Cabinet from six to eight members in his first act as council leader, Cllr Richard Williams said he had decided no replacement would be appointed and announced the role would be shared.
Now he has said the role is of “strategic importance” to his new Labour administration and it needs a special and “forensic” attention.
So he has appointed veteran councillor John Noon, a Unite union member, to the £11,000-ayear job.
Cllr Williams said was happy to do a U-turn to make sure taxpayers were getting the best deal they could from the council.
He said he changed his mind after hearing how red tape had delayed the removal of a cone by three days and felt that he needed someone to re-examine the council’s contract with Capita, a firm the Conservatives brought in to run swathes of council services.
Opposition Tory leader Cllr Royston Smith said: “How can we trust a man who just four weeks ago said I will not replace the Cabinet member he lost, then changes his mind?
“Especially in light of the meeting we are having on Monday into whether he’s been telling the truth over the resignation of the last holder of the post. It’s becoming laughable.
The whole thing is a farce now.”
Jonathan Isaby from TaxPayers’ Alliance called the rejig absurd and said Cllr Williams could have reduced the pay of Cabinet members if he wanted more of them to take on the responsibilities previously carried out by a smaller number of councillors.
Cllr Noon said: “I am pleased that Cllr Williams has confidence in me and I’m hopeful that I can repay that confidence by delivering improved services to Southampton residents even in such difficult times.
“I do understand the challenge is going to be a difficult one but if I can get it right I can make a massive difference to the way the council works.”
Cllr Williams faces a Tory motion of no confidence on Monday over claims he misled the public by his announcement of Cllr Morrell’s resignation on “health grounds”.
Cllr Morrell, who is in fact fighting fit, later said it was a “fiction” agreed with Cllr Williams to avoid an embarrassing public row.
Cllr Williams denied he was given other reasons but welcomed a debate to clear up any confusion.