George Ferguson leaves empty chairs at cabinet meeting

First cabinet meeting under George Ferguson, Bristol Political reporter for BBC Bristol Robin Markwell was at the meeting in Knowle and took this picture

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Three chairs meant for Labour councillors, who have refused to join a cross-party cabinet, were left empty at a Bristol City Council meeting.

The symbolic gesture was made at the first cabinet meeting for new independent mayor George Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson had invited Labour to join his cabinet but the party's National Executive Committee blocked it.

Labour's Sean Beynon said it was "immature" but Mr Ferguson said Labour was doing a "disservice" to Bristol.

"They should think about where their priorities lie. Their priorities lie with serving Bristol, not with serving themselves," Mr Ferguson added.

Peter Hammond, former leader of the Labour group, resigned in November after Labour's governing body, the National Executive Committee, overruled a decision by party councillors to join the cabinet.

Analysis

What made this meeting in Knowle historic was the sight of the three parties participating in the mayor's cabinet sitting alongside each other as decisions were taken together.

But the real talking point of the night was the three empty chairs left alongside the cabinet table.

A pointed reminder of the fact the Labour party has told its councillors not to take part in the cross-party working and instead form a constructive opposition.

That irked Mayor Ferguson who has decided to take on the transport, care and education briefs himself for the time being.

'Slimline cabinet'

Earlier this month Mr Ferguson announced that he would be taking on extra work as a result of Labour's absence.

The other positions will be taken by Gus Hoyt for the Greens, Simon Cook for the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Geoff Gollop.

Mr Hoyt will be in charge of environment and neighbourhoods, Mr Cook will be responsible for arts and culture, and Mr Gollop will head up finance.

"[It is] important that we have an effective but small cabinet, a slimline cabinet," added Mr Ferguson.

"But I do hope that within a short time, and certainly after the next council elections in May, that we end up with a full council of six as I originally intended."

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