Calls for answers as Sandwell Council seeks new leader and chief executive at same time

Calls have been made for clarity over the circumstances around the departure of Sandwell Council's fifth leader in three years.

Rajbir Singh has resigned as Sandwell Council leader after six months in the job
Rajbir Singh has resigned as Sandwell Council leader after six months in the job

The authority is now in need of a new elected leader and a new chief executive, with interim appointees filling both of the roles after the resignation of Rajbir Singh.

Councillor Singh stood down as leader of the authority with immediate effect after just six months on Wednesday, citing “personal reasons”.

Deputy council leader Councillor Maria Crompton, who has already been interim leader for a year once before, will take on the responsibilities again until a new leader is appointed.

In the last three years, the Labour-dominated authority has had five leaders and three chief executives. Kim Bromley-Derry is the current temporary chief executive, who leads the council's paid staff, as the authority attempts to find a permanent replacement.

Councillor Singh, who became council leader in May this year aged 40, said: “After much thought during a family holiday in India, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot continue to balance the heavy demands of council leadership with the responsibilities I also have to my young family and my businesses.

“It has been huge privilege to serve my community at such a young age and one day in the future when my personal circumstances are different, could seek opportunities to serve the community.”

Councillor Yvonne Davies was ousted as Labour's council leader in 2020 following allegations of racism and corruption and now represents Langley as an independent.

She said: “There needs to be a clear answer as to why this has happened. The Labour Party needs to be prevented from interfering in decision making.

“I wish Rajbir all the best, but there needs to be a strong adherence to the seven principles of public life.

“I believe it’s important that people should be honest, should conduct themselves with integrity, and should not be interested in political decision making when they don’t like the outcome.”

Meanwhile Councillor Elaine Costigan, who represents Wednesbury North for Labour, said she had “absolutely no idea” that Councillor Singh intended to resign.

She said: “I had no idea he was going to resign. Absolutely no idea. I saw the internal email come up today and I was quite surprised to see it.

“There is a Labour emergency meeting tonight to discuss what is going on. Obviously I can’t comment on that, but I am quite shocked at this.”

Councillor David Fisher, leader of the Conservative opposition, said he was glad to see Councillor Singh go and described him as “not a strong enough leader”.

Speaking to BBC Radio WM, he said: “There’s been infighting within Sandwell Labour for many years, and I think a few eyebrows were raised when he originally got the post, but after six months in charge I think is not strong enough.

“Whether senior councillors and those that make the decisions from the local Labour group have decided enough is enough, And sort of have made their decisions to get rid of him.”

Councillor Singh has had a tough six months as Sandwell’s council leader.

Shortly after his appointment the council was embroiled in a scandal after school transport contracts worth more than £20 million were awarded to two firms owned by a disgraced ex-employee of the council.

A leaked review into the Wragge Report, which investigated corruption allegations in the borough, accused those carrying out the probe of racism, bias and political interference.

And an industrial dispute between waste disposal workers and Serco, which is contracted to operate waste services by Sandwell Council, continues to rumble on although threatened Christmas strikes have now been cancelled.

Meanwhile the decision to halt the closure of Tipton's Walker Grange care home was announced last week after a sustained campaign by families of individuals who live there.

The political turmoil has come amid regular changes in paid leadership.

Mr Bromley-Derry was brought in as interim chief executive in August when David Stevens stood down after 18 months in charge. Mr Stevens had himself been the interim boss before being handed the role permanently when the council failed to advertise the role nationally and he was the only candidate to apply.

This time the council has added £38,000 onto the boss's salary and the major recruitment agency hired to entice the right candidate has been advertising a yearly wage of £185,000

Stevens' predecessor was Jan Britton who ran the council for eight years, including being in charge during the Wragge investigation before resigning after a series of rows with his political bosses.

Councillor Fisher added: “Sandwell needs a strong leader because it’s the residents at the end of their suffering, and without a strong leader, it affects businesses that wants to come here and invest.”

West Bromwich's two Conservative MPs both criticised Labour's approach to governing in the borough.

Shaun Bailey, who represents West Bromwich West, said: “Once again it’s the same story of revolving doors at Sandwell Council and within Sandwell Labour group.

“The truth is, Sandwell Labour clearly have no grasp on the importance of being in control of the council and the responsibility that comes with it.

“The departure of the leader leaves more questions than it answers, and at such a crucial time for our communities.

“Sandwell Labour needs to stop treating the leadership of our borough with contempt, get a grip, and finally find a leader who can stay the course.”

Nicola Richards, the MP for West Bromwich East, said: “It will be interesting to know why Councillor Singh has decided to step down so abruptly. With Sandwell Labour’s history, while it’s not surprising, it’s disappointing the revolving door of leadership is still ongoing.”

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News