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Keith Morrell resigns from Southampton City Council's cabinet after two weeks
Cllr Keith Morrell stepped down from his role as Labour’s new efficiency tsar because he couldn’t bring himself to force through the devastating cuts he believes will be needed after examining the council’s finances.
A council statement had claimed that Cllr Morrell had left for health reasons. But Cllr Morrell himself confirmed to the Daily Echo he was not ill and agreed to the story to avoid an embarrassing public row.
Cllr Morrell added that new council leader Cllr Richard Williams had told him he would be forced to resign as leader if the real reasons became known.
It follows former Labour finance spokesman Cllr Stephen Barnes-Andrews quitting his role just before local elections earlier this month in a policy dispute with Cllr Williams over bin collections.
Opposition Tories said Labour was now being forced to admit the scale of the council’s cash crisis and called for Cllr Williams to resign as he was not up to the job.
Cllr Morrell, 63, an accountant, was made Cabinet member for efficiency and improvement in Cllr Williams’ first Cabinet following the party’s election landslide The left-wing lifetime Labour Party member said he accepted the job to protect jobs and services.
But after fully examining the books he said he could not sign up to the scale of the savings that will need to be made. Despite record savings made in recent years by the Tories, Labour now faces a £46m budget deficit over the next two years.
Cllr Morrell said: “I was concerned that when the Government announces the new funding settlement it will be even worse than we expected and it will entail even more damage to local services and then force the dismantling of local government.
As a Labour administration we are going to need to reconsider how we will deal with that. As a Cabinet member I could not argue the case for making even more cuts.
“I would rather argue from within the group and the back benches, than defend them as a Cabinet member.”
Asked why he agreed to say he resigned for health reason’s Cllr Morrell said: “Cllr Williams’ threat of resignation and the warning of the damage it would do to the new Labour administration.
For the good of the party, I relented.
“But I didn’t believe it would be expressed in the way it was.
“Initially I was willing to go along with the fiction but I couldn’t keep on lying to people when they asked me.”
In the initial council statement Cllr Williams expressed his sadness that Cllr Morrell had had to “step down so soon” adding: “My primary concern is that Keith has the time and space to address his health concerns and I wish him and his family all the best.”
But last night, when asked by the Daily Echo about Cllr Morrell’s claim that he did not initially offer his resignation on health grounds but only did so to save face for the Labour group, Cllr Williams insisted: “All I can say is he cited health reasons for his resignation.
That’s what he told me.”
Cllr Williams denied categorically they discussed Cllr Morrell’s political concerns over cuts as the real reason for him wanting to quit.
Last night Conservative opposition leader Cllr Royston Smith said: “You should never ask someone to leave on grounds of ill health when that’s not the case.
"Cllr Williams should go now before he does even more damage to the council. This just demonstrates what we’ve been saying all the way through the election, the council faces a serious problem and Cllr Williams and his Cabinet are unfortunately out of their depth.”
Cllr Morrell insisted Labour was determined to honour pledges made to staff to restore pay cuts imposed last year by the Tories and to avoid redundancies through an internal jobs market.
Cllr Williams said he had decided not to find a new Cabinet member for efficiency.
It follows Tory criticism he was “creating jobs for the boys” by expanding the council’s Cabinet from six to eight members.