Preston local elections: Labour 'bucks national trend' and Tories become main opposition
There was minimal change to the shape of Preston City Council following the local elections, with Labour comfortably retaining control of the authority.
The ruling group successfully defended all 10 of the seats that it held going into this week’s vote - and council leader Matthew Brown heralded the local party’s ability to buck the national trend of disappointing Labour results.
The only group to gain ground in Preston was the Conservatives, which became the official opposition after capturing two seats from the Liberal Democrats.
The two parties had previously shared main opposition duties after they were tied for the second-highest number of places in the chamber following the last election in 2019.
Victories for the Tories in the Ingol and Cottam and Greyfriars wards were the only changes after the city-wide poll, which recorded a turnout of 30 percent.
Otherwise, the city proved to be a sea of relative political calm against a national backdrop of shifting party fortunes elsewhere in the country.
Cllr Brown said the result in Preston was “exactly what the doctor ordered”.
“We seem to have bucked the trend again - that's due to a mixture of things like hard work and commitment to the community,
“But I think [having] a lot of clear ideas about a very positive and radical way of transforming our city - and the things that we have done to lift people up - have really resonated.
“I’m thinking in particular of some of the work we are doing around community wealth building, the funding we have secured to regenerate our city centre and the food hubs we have supported.
“It’s been a very tough night for Labour - and if we can hold the 10 seats we [are defending], it’ll be a brilliant result,” said Cllr Brown, just before the full result was known.
Lib Dem group leader John Potter said it had been a difficult set of elections for his party locally - losing two of the three seats it was defending.
“We just got swept away by a national wave of support for the Tories. People were very positive about us when we spoke to them on the doorstep, complimenting our work locally, but saying they were still going to vote Tory.
“We just couldn't stop that tidal wave of Conservative support,” Cllr Potter added.
Conservative group leader Sue Whittam had been hoping to capitalise on what she said was a “big momentum” for the Tories nationally - and said she was “over the moon” to have added to the party’s tally and become the leader of the official opposition.
"It's fantastic news for our Conservative Party here in Preston. The hard work of our candidates paid off and I am so proud of what we have achieved.
“[The new members] will work really hard for residents, like we all do in the Conservative group - and we won't let residents down,” Cllr Whittam said.
The Tory victory in Ingol and Cottam will see Trevor Hart to the authority - the former mayor was unseated from the old Lea ward in 2019, having first been elected a councillor in2008.
Sixteen seats were up for grabs out of the total 48 on the authority, as the council returned to electing a third of its members on rotation following a whole-council election last time out in 2019 as a result of ward boundary changes.
Three Labour cabinet members were up for re-election in this week’s poll, all of them retaining their seats - resources and performance portfolio holder Martyn Rawlinson, communities and social justice member Nweeda Khan and the member for culture and leisure services, Peter Kelly.
Cllr Debbie Shannon’s retention of the Cadley ward was the sole highlight for the Lib Dems, while they once again lost Mark Jewell from Ingol and Cottam. He had returned to the authority in 2019 having previously served between 2006 and 2010.
Preston’s Green Party did not make an electoral breakthrough in the city this year, after fielding candidates in more than half of the contested seats. None of the independents standing were elected either, although Michael Balshaw was just 125 votes shy of snatching the Ashton ward from Labour.
The Conservative gains mean that the council no longer consists entirely of wards in which all three members are from the same party, as was the case after the 2019 poll.
The results did not begin to emerge until after 6pm, over eight hours after vote verification began at the Guild Hall.
The city council said that the two-stage process was hampered by the number of different elections held on Thursday. The votes for as many as four polls had to be sorted - the city council, some parish councils, Lancashire County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner.
The work has also been slowed by the need to maintain a Covid-secure environment.
Adrian Phillips, chief executive of Preston City Council, said that this year's count had presented “unprecedented challenges and complexities”.
The city council and Police and Crime Commissioner polls were postponed last year because of the pandemic, creating a backlog of elections in 2021. Usually, the county council vote is held in a year when no other major polls are taking place.
‘TIME FOR A NEW GENERATION’
Veteran Labour city councillor and former mayor Brian Rollo stood down at this year’s elections - but could not resist turning up at the count.
He described his 19 years on the authority as “interesting”, adding:
“It’s been a pleasure to serve the people of Preston -, there really are some lovely folk in Preston.
“I’ve done at the council in my time - I chaired the stock transfer when the council houses moved across to [the Community Gateway Association] - and that has eventually been a very great success.
“I had an absolutely superb year as the mayor, which was a very busy time. But now I’ve [had] a significant birthday and it’s time to let a younger person take Preston forward now,” Cllr Rollo added.
FINAL RESULT (16 out of 16 declarations)
LABOUR - 10 (no change)
CONSERVATIVE - 5 (+2)
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT - 1 (-2)
GREEN - 0
INDEPENDENT - 0
OVERAL COUNCIL COMPOSITION
LABOUR - 30
CONSERVATIVE - 11
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT - 7