Four councillors have defected from their groups to join the Conservatives on Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Lesley Adams, Shaun Bennett and cabinet member Janine Bridges have left the City Independents – the Tories’ coalition partners – while Ally Simcock has crossed the floor from the opposition Labour group.
The defections mean the Conservatives are now the single largest group on the council, with 19 elected members.
Labour have 14 councillors and the City Independents have eight, with two non-aligned members and one vacant seat. The Tories are still short of an overall majority on the 44-seat authority.
These are the latest gains for the local Conservatives, which up until 2015 had just two elected members on the council. The party has also gained all three parliamentary seats in Stoke-on-Trent since 2017.
Ms Simcock was only elected as a Labour councillor for Sandford Hill in May 2019, but she said a ‘divided Labour Party’ was one of the reasons for her defection to the Tories.
She said: “I want to be part of the team that is getting things done.
“What I’ve seen in the local Conservatives is a group of people who are determined to deliver a better future for our community.”
This is the second time that Ms Bridges has left the City Independent group, following her first departure in 2010.
The long-serving councillor for Great Chell & Packmoor and cabinet member for education and economy had also previously served as a Labour councillor and cabinet member, but rejoined the City Independents in 2015.
She said: “Over the past few months it has become increasingly clear that only one party is delivering for our city and that if we want to achieve the change we need for our community, I have to be part of the team who are delivering.”
Lesley Adams and Shaun Bennett were both elected as City Independents in last year’s local elections.
Mr Bennett, councillor for Hollybush & Longton West, said: “Locally, Conservatives have secured £35 million to resurface our roads and pavements, they’ve secured over £18 million worth of investment into our heritage buildings, and through the Ceramics Valley Enterprise Zone they’ve worked with the government to secure over 2000 new jobs – I want to help them continue to deliver for Stoke-on-Trent.”
Ms Adams, of Burslem Park ward said: “Having seen the dedication of local Conservatives, and the attention our area is receiving since we’ve had three Conservative MPs elected in our area last year I’m delighted to be joining the Conservatives to continue to see the change that we all want to see for our city.”
Council leader Abi Brown welcomed the councillors to the Conservative group.
She said: “I’m excited that these four talented councillors recognise the work we’ve been doing across the city and are now going to be part of that positive change.
“Lesley, Shaun, Janine and Ally will each bring new expertise and I’m delighted to welcome them into the Conservative Group.”
The city council has been run by a Conservative and City Independent coalition since 2015, with the Tories becoming the larger of the two groups following last year’s elections.
Mrs Brown believes the coalition can continue, despite the defection of three City Independents to her group.
She added: “We have been working in coalition with the City Independent group since 2015, and I hope that we continue that relationship moving forward. I would like us to work together for the good of the city.
“Ultimately it is up to individual councillors to decide which political group they want to work with.”
Acting Labour group leader Paul Shotton said he was ‘disappointed’ by Ms Simcock’s decision to join the Tories.
He said: “It is disappointing that someone who was elected as a Labour councillor by the voters of Sandford Hill just over a year ago can now join a totally opposing political party.
“Ally Simcock claimed to be a staunch socialist who opposed the imposition of food banks and austerity, and yet now she has joined the party responsible for those things.
“The increase in support for the Conservatives was mainly driven by Brexit and the previous party leader. Now we have a new leader in Keir Starmer and our support is rising nationally.”
The defection of the three City Independents follows the departure of former deputy group leader Randy Conteh earlier this year. He now sits as a non-aligned councillor.
City Independent group leader Ann James said: “It is disappointing that these three councillors have joined the Conservatives after being elected as City Independents. This is the second time that Janine Bridges has left the group. She was a City Indepdendent, then Community Voice, then Labour, then she came back to us, and now she’s left again.”