Councillor Rajbir Singh, who has been cabinet member for skills and employment, was voted into the top role at a group meeting on Wednesday, May 19.
It’s a meteoric rise for the 40-year-old who was only elected as a member in the Bristnall ward three years ago – but he said he will call upon his vast experience as a businessman in the retail sector to help him in the role.
Councillor Singh said recovering from the pandemic, attracting investment, creating a healthier, cleaner and greener borough were among the top of his priorities. But one of the biggest challenges he faces immediately is to bring together Sandwell Labour group that has been dogged by scandal and in-fighting.
There have been allegations of corruption, misuse of public money, leaking confidential information, bullying and racism for a number of years.
Since former leader Darren Cooper died in 2016, the group and council has been led by Steve Eling, Steve Trow, Yvonne Davis and, most recently deputy leader Maria Crompton taking the reins on an interim basis.
As a result of the split, six Labour members resigned before this month's local election, in which the party lost nine seats to the Conservatives. The result saw the Tories have elected members back on Sandwell Council for the first time since 2012.
Councillor Singh said: “It’s a great feeling to be elected. It is a momentous task being leader, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done in Sandwell. I’m looking forward to taking over as leader and start making a difference to the lives of people in the borough.
“But we have to have a united Labour group if we want to win elections in the future.
“Every election has a message from the electorate so, yes, there are a few things that need to change.
“I will create a strong and united Sandwell Labour group, bringing cohesion, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard, decisions are made transparently, and the council has an open and fair culture.
“We will develop into a powerful force of good which is completely focussed on delivering for our residents.”
He added: “I’ve got experience of running organisations. I’m a businessman so I can use that experience in my role as the leader of the council.
I will also work to create the cleanest, greenest and safest Sandwell yet. Having talked to hundreds of residents in recent weeks, I am aware how high priority this is for them.
“Our work will aim to ensure we all have liveable neighbourhoods that are regarded amongst the best in the West Midlands.
“I will focus on supporting the residents of Sandwell with access to jobs and the right skills.
“I will work closely with local businesses to encourage investment in the borough and help them reopen safely as the restrictions ease.”