A LEAKED email has revealed the new leader of Durham County Council will be a Liberal Democrat with a Tory as deputy leader if plans for a new joint administration go ahead.

Amanda Hopgood is the first choice to lead the new administration and would be the first female leader in the council’s 132-year history.

Cllr Hopgood, leader of county’s Lib Dems, could take charge tomorrow, with Richard Bell, leader of the Conservative group, as her deputy.

The alliance is made up of Tories, Lib Dems and three independent groups including the Spennymoor Independents, the Durham Group and Durham County Council Independent Group

The email from Cllr Bell to members of the alliance advises newly elected and less experienced councillors of procedures and how they should vote.

It sets out the alliance’s ‘slate’ as Cllrs Hopgood and Bell and leader and deputy with Cllrs Watts Stelling (The Durham Group) and Beaty Bainbridge (Conservative) as chairman and deputy chairman.

On Tuesday afternoon alliance leaders met with John Hewitt, the council’s chief executive to discuss their intentions.

The accuracy of the contents of the email regarding senior positions at the council were last night confirmed to the Northern Echo.

Leadership positions are expected to change annually on a rotational basis. 

Cabinet posts will be equally divided among the partners, with three for The Durham Group Independents, three for the Lib Dems, three for the Conservatives, one for Durham County Council Independent Group.

A spokesman for the alliance said: “We recognise that, subject to a successful annual meeting, this will be a historic moment for Durham County Council.

“Not only will the council be run by a non-Labour administration for the first time, it will also have its first ever female Leader.

“In building to this moment, the partners have demonstrated what can be achieved by focusing on the big picture and the best outcome for communities across the county.

“That is the approach that the joint administration of Durham County Council intends to continue during its time in office.

“In that spirit, we are willing to work with any and all groups for the good of County Durham.”

Durham County Council currently has 126 councillors and the current political make-up is 53 Labour, 24 Conservatives, 17 Liberal Democrats, one non-political member and 31 independents from three groups: Durham County Council Independent Group, Spennymoor Independents and the Durham Group.

It is understood most of the 73 non-Labour members have indicated support for the move but nothing will be certain until the council’s annual meeting on Wednesday morning at Spennymoor Leisure Centre.

Cllr Simon Henig, who represents Chester-le-Street, announced he would not continue as leader and was standing down as leader of the County Durham Labour group and after the part lost its majority for the first time in a century.

He has been replaced by Stanley councillor Carl Marshall who hopes to form his own administration at the council.

He said the new alliance could harm progress on existing projects and has complained that Labour had been excluded from talks.

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Carl Marshall 

Cllr Carl Marshall said: “Labour’s first and only priority at this moment in time is to play our part in creating a council that delivers for the people and businesses of County Durham.

“To be excluded from talks between other political groups is not only disappointing, it threatens to destabilise the significant progress we have made in laying the groundwork for 30,000 new jobs across Durham.

“Labour heard what people had to say in the May elections.

“It was a painful lesson, but one we accept and learn from.

“People want change, they voted for a different make-up of Durham County Council, but they also voted for Labour to remain the largest party in the county, so to be completely excluded from these talks by this coalition of political parties, whose only uniting factor seems to be an anti-Labour platform, seems to go against the will of the people.”

“Labour has offered the hand of friendship to other parties, only to have it slapped away.

“However, that hand remains extended and we urge our fellow councillors to accept it if we are to truly deliver the council that the people of Durham voted for.”