Peter Moss used the authority’s annual budget-setting meeting to reveal that his City Centre ward party would not be putting him forward as their representative at the polls in May – and then dramatically defected to become an independent for the remainder of his tenure at the town hall.
He said he would not be seeking a Labour seat elsewhere in the city and would no longer be accepting the group whip – the party’s internal system of rules – and so crossed the floor of the chamber to sit alone on the same side as the opposition groups.
He told colleagues that it was "no longer appropriate" for him to remain amongst the rows of the Labour ranks.
Cllr Moss denied at the meeting that he intended to become an independent, but has since told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that council procedure meant that that was now his new status. However, the authority's website describes him as "Labour Independent".
He also told the LDRS that he continued to be a Labour Party member and to “fully support” Labour at a national level.
However, Cllr Moss marked his departure from the Preston Labour group with a blistering denunciation of the administration whose upper echelons he had so recently been a part of - and of some aspects of what he called the “packet soup budget” that his former group had just proposed.
“We should note that there is no extra money to make our streets safer, cleaner and somewhere our residents want to be and be proud of.
“What should never be the case is [that we] formulate council policy in order for some [people] to show off their ideological purity…to their hard-Left mates in Momentum [a socialist movement within Labour which backed former leader Jeremy Corbyn]. We should do it properly and only for the benefit of the people of Preston,” Cllr Moss said.
He also claimed that there was a lack of evidence that Preston Labour’s flagship community wealth-building policies – designed to keep cash in the pockets of local people and business – actually worked. Cllr Moss said that the initially positive figures used to justify the concept in 2016 were still being relied upon last year to show its success.
“The time has now come to compare facts with the dominant narrative,” said Cllr Moss, who has been a city councillor since 2015 and served as deputy leader from 2018 until May 2021. He was also the cabinet member for planning and regulation and has chaired the planning committee since leaving his cabinet role last May.
Likening the budget to unfavourable reviews of the Avenham Park cafe since the council started running it, he said that it was akin to a packet soup, “designed to have some hot water poured on it and stirred around in order to try and fool the public into thinking it’s a tasty, fulfilling offering they should be grateful for”.
“Perhaps next year’s offering…might be more up-market – a ‘Preston Model’ Pot Noodle budget. Whatever it is, I won’t be tasting it,” he concluded, to applause from the Tories and Lib Dems.
His replacement as deputy leader, Martyn Rawlinson, said that Cllr Moss was clearly “very bitter about something”.
“But we don’t throw our beliefs out of the window for the sake of the bottom line – and that’s possibly the reason why he is sat in a different seat now,” Cllr Rawlinson added.
On community wealth-building, he said: “Why would we keep producing [figures] over and over to prove that it works? We’ve proved that it works – we want to spend time and money doing it, to benefit the people of Preston – which it does – [and] which is proved [by] hundreds of millions of pounds [being] kept in the economy.”
Cabinet member for planning and regulation David Borrow said he was “disappointed” to have to follow Cllr Moss’s speech, adding:
“I have great regard for the work Peter has done on the council and I have regarded him as a comrade over many years. It saddens me that he will probably regret what he has said.”
Cllr Brown said during the meeting that he was unaware of Cllr Moss’ plans to leave the group and called for an adjournment to allow the group to consider its replacement for him on the planning committee.
That was later revealed to be Cllr Phil Crowe. However, the committee itself will decide who is elected as its chair at its next meeting.
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