Labour, Green and Lib Dem councillors quit parties to form new group
Five district councillors have quit their political parties and formed a new group, claiming residents had been "ignored" by mainstream parties.
The Chase Independents features Cannock Chase councillors from the Greens and Labour, and is chaired by former parliamentary candidate Paul Dadge, who has resigned from Keir Starmer's party.
The group is led by former Green Party group leader, Councillor Paul Woodhead, and includes councillors' Claire Wilkinson, Stuart Crabtree and Mandy Dunnett – who have all quit the Greens – as well as Councillor Andrea Layton, who has resigned from Labour.
It also includes Hednesford Town Council chairman Kathryn Downs, who has quit as the Green Party's candidate for West Midlands Mayor, and her town council colleague Emma Hunneyball, who has left the Lib Dems.
Mr Dadge, who stood for Parliament in Cannock Chase in 2017, said they wanted to make politics "truly local" due to residents "always being ignored" by mainstream parties.
"Working with volunteers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become clear that the level of engagement, energy and volunteering within our district by residents has been and continues to be huge," he added.
"Our vision will be built around consultation with our community and that starts now with the ability for them to let us know what they want to see."
The group holds five out of the council's 41 seats and two cabinet positions. Labour now has 17 seats to the Conservatives 14. It has run the authority with the Greens since last year's council elections, although no formal coalition has ever been agreed.
Councillor Woodhead said: "Coming together with other councillors from differing political parties to put our community ahead of national politics is an amazing journey to be involved with.
"We all hope this will be an inspiration to others to change the focus of the council from one of political self-interest to community involvement and collaboration."
The group says it hopes to build on the work of the Hednesford Residents & Volunteers, which took control of Hednesford Town Council last year.
Councillor Downs said: "It’s time for politics to change, to focus on local solutions to local issues.
"While standing in the West Midlands mayoral campaign race earlier this year I became increasingly aware just how fragmented the West Midlands is when it comes to the economy.
"Even in the West Midlands Combined Authority we see funding and development prioritised in the region’s major cities, while poorer areas such as the Black Country get left behind.
"It is clear that devolution needs to happen on a much more granular scale, with each area in need of strong policies that reflect the needs of their communities, not the region or the country.
"To achieve that we need to ensure that as politicians we are truly listening to the needs of our residents and putting those views ahead of party politics.
"In Hednesford we’ve seen this working well after just 12 months in office, opening up the doors of the council and inviting the community to come and get involved in the decision making, while planning for the future of our high street."