Dispute over funding prompts Cheshire West councillor to lose party whip

A long-standing Cheshire West Labour councillor will now sit as an independent following a clash over paying her party dues.

The move comes as a big blow to Labour, which only recently picked up a string of new seats at the 4 May local elections.

Gill Watson was re-elected Labour councillor for Newton & Hoole at those elections but has since fallen foul of strict rules about making financial contributions to the party.

Labour councillors must pay some of their income from salary and allowances to the party and to the local Cheshire West Labour group, but her decision not to do so means she has been automatically suspended from the group and had the whip withdrawn by the party – meaning she is no longer a Labour councillor. The development has left both sides “surprised” and “confused.”

In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Watson – who was first elected as Labour councillor in 2015 – said that leaving was “not her choice”, but a result of a “clash” between what she said were her personal principles and Labour Party rules on mandatory political contributions.

A Cheshire West Labour spokesperson said, “As part of national Labour Party rules, all elected Labour members must pay a two per cent levy to the party from their salary/set personal allowances.

“Cheshire West and Chester’s Labour group also requires an additional five per cent to fund administration costs and to pay for things such as campaigning materials.”

The move comes as an early blow to Labour so soon into a new administration, after it only recently celebrated taking majority control of Cheshire West when its numbers surged from 33 to 39 at the elections.

Cllr Watson said, “Non-payment of these contributions results in automatic withdrawal of the whip and suspension from the Labour Group.

“The contributions are required regardless of the ability to pay. An opportunity to debate this at the recent Cheshire West Labour Group Annual General Meeting was quashed. I have stopped making these contributions and I accept the consequences of my actions. ”

She added that she was “surprised” to find herself in her current situation and said she intended to take time to take stock and reflect.

She said, “Cheshire West Labour Group is fully aware of the situation. Sadly, the door cannot be open for my return unless there is a change to Labour Party rules.”

Cheshire West and Chester’s full council last week voted by majority to up councillor allowances from £13,223 to £14,453-a-year.

During the meeting, former Labour councillor Mandy Clare – who now represents the independent Winsford Salt of the Earth group – told members that some councillors who were on low incomes were feeling the strain, and appealed to political groups to reconsider what they charged councillors.

She said, “The Labour Party takes – well when I was a member – it was around £90 a month off their members towards campaign fees, which is quite a lot of money.”

A spokesman for Cheshire West and Chester’s Labour group said its group whips had stressed that if any councillor had any problems, financial or otherwise, then they would “do their best” to accommodate those councillors whenever possible.

He added, “Gill Watson’s departure from the Labour group following her election as a Labour councillor two weeks ago is unexpected.

“While her decision does not impact Labour’s majority on the council, the group remains saddened and confused by her decision, and the door remains open for her to return.”

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