Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson goes after no confidence vote
SECURITY guards had to be called to the heated meeting in which Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson was turfed out of office and replaced by his former deputy Jim Currie.
The Conservative leader lost a vote of no confidence at an extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday, triggered after Mr Robertson and his Cabinet refused to scrap plans to part-privatise council services despite a council vote against the project.
After hours of fraught negotiations Mr Currie was elected leader over Cabinet member Neil Burden, who had been put forward by Tory councillor Mike Eathorne-Gibbons.
The turmoil continued after Mr Currie's selection was confirmed when four Cabinet members resigned – Julian German, Graeme Hicks (both Independent), Chris Ridgers and Steve Double (both Conservative) – saying they could not serve under Mr Currie.
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Earlier in the meeting, which was being webcast live, council chairman Pat Harvey called in security guards after Cabinet member Mark Kaczmarek called Liberal Democrat group leader Jeremy Rowe a "backstabber".
Mr Kaczmarek then refused to retract the comment at Mrs Harvey's request. He was led from the chamber by two security guards, later returning and apologising to Mr Rowe.
Mr Robertson was voted out of office by 63 votes to 49 after a long debate with opponents criticising his leadership and decision-making and supporters praising his hard work and determination.
Cabinet member Armand Toms (Con) said Mr Robertson had made "amazing achievements" considering where the council had been, while Mr Hicks blamed a "hostile local media" for the lack of recognition of the council's achievements.
Some councillors questioned the need for the vote, with Tory John Fitter accusing the Lib Dems of using it to start their campaign for elections in May.
After the vote, Councillor Graham Walker, the independent who seconded the no confidence motion, said: "I am pleased with how it turned out but sad for Alec. I do recognise the hard work he has done, but he got it wrong. He ignored the wishes of the council on the shared services project and has paid the price for that."
Mrs Harvey and Mr Burden paid tribute to and thanked Mr Robertson for his hard work over the past three and a half years.
In the election of a successor, Mr Currie won 49 votes to Mr Burden's 46. Five councillors abstained.
After being nominated Mr Currie, who had last week resigned as deputy leader over his opposition to the shared services plan, said: "Now is the time to look forward and reinforce the democracy demonstrated by the members this afternoon. I'll hold meetings over the coming days to determine who will make up the new Cabinet.
"This council has six months to run and it has to put some fundamental things right."
He said the council needed to decide policy on key issues such as the budget and the shared service project, adding: "We as a council must control our destiny, not have it done for us by a bunch of city merchants."
The full council's debate on the shared services project on Tuesday can be seen live from 10.30am at www.thisiscornwall.co.uk