The Labour leader of Sandwell council has stepped down from his role rather than face a vote of no confidence in March.
Cllr Steve Eling’s decision comes after his party’s councillors chose Steve Trow to head their group following Cllr Eling’s suspension from the party last month.
He had previously refused to relinquish the role as the authority’s most senior politician despite calls for him to go by a local Conservative MP James Morris .
But following the news that the council’s Labour party group would seek to replace as him as council leader at meeting in March, he officially resigned yesterday afternoon (Wednesday).
His deputy, Cllr Syeda Khatun, will now take over his role until the full council meeting in March elects the authority’s new political leader.
In a brief email announcing his decision to all Labour councillors, Cllr Eling said: “In view of the current situation, I have decided to step down from the position of Leader of the Council.
“Councillor Steve Trow is set to be elected as leader at the next meeting of the council. In the interim, Councillor Syeda Khatun will take on the leader’s duties as Deputy Leader.”
Cllr Eling’s party membership was suspended by Labour’s national executive committee after it launched an internal investigation following a complaint against him – the details of which he says he has been given no details of.
Earlier this week he said it was ‘a knife in the back.’
Following his resignation, Jan Britton, Chief Executive of Sandwell Council, said: “Councillor Steve Eling has stepped down as council leader with immediate effect.
“A new leader will be formally elected by majority vote at the next scheduled Full Council meeting on Tuesday, March 5 at 6pm.
“In the interim period, the Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Syeda Khatun, will undertake the duties and responsibilities of the Leader of the Council in addition to her existing responsibilities. The roles of existing cabinet members and their portfolios will remain unaffected.”
In his email to Labour councillors, Cllr Eling attached a more detailed statement which he asked to be reproduced in full.
In it he said:
“What the people of Sandwell have seen under my leadership of the council is the protection of services in the face of austerity. All our libraries and our children’s centres are still open. We have new leisure centres, the bins get emptied every week and garden waste collection is free. We look after the most vulnerable in our society and the elderly. I have a well regarded track record of working to bring our communities together, engaging with our workforce and trade unions. The Labour Party should be celebrating our successes.
“We have had to deal with some very difficult issues on poor conduct and wrongdoing through the council’s standards process showing the community that we will tackle wrongdoing when it is there. Our approach has been upheld by the courts. All of this has been evidenced recently by an independent review by the Local Government Association of the council, commending our leadership and achievements on all of these key issues.
“I have made a few enemies in the process, but all my critics can throw at me is personal abuse and often malicious complaints. This has been combined with a gross breach of confidentiality about a Labour Party process which is still in its very early stages; and for which no specific detail has been provided in any communication with me. I will answer whatever points are raised at the right time, in the right place.
“I am grateful for all the messages of kind support I have received; and the concerns and peoples’ annoyance that actions have been imposed from on high without any consultation or explanation. It is sad that at a time of national political crisis, with BREXIT and local government in a state of collapse through unrelenting cuts, that the successes of Sandwell Council and needs of the community are taking second place to internal Labour Party squabbling.
“I wish Councillor Steve Trow every success in taking forward the good work of the council, working with the great team that we have in the Cabinet. Meanwhile I will continue to serve the people of Abbey ward, as I have done since 1986 and work to create a better community for all Sandwell’s citizens.”