Babergh District Council was dealt a fresh blow on Tuesday night when leader Jennie Jenkins’ stepped down amidst heavy criticism.
The former Conservative leader made the shock announcement during a meeting of the full council, leaving her deputy, Jan Osborne, to take over as acting leader.
The move took opposition councillors by surprise, as it invalidated part of their motion calling for Mrs Jenkins to stand down.
Great Cornard’s Labour councillor Tony Bavington had proposed the motion over criticism of Mrs Jenkins’ handling of the merger proposal with Mid Suffolk District Council.
Addressing her fellow councillors, Mrs Jenkins, who represents the Leavenheath ward, said: “It is with great regret and huge sadness that I have decided to stand down as leader of the council with immediate effect.
“I hope it will still be possible to have a smooth hand over that will provide stability for the council, our staff and our residents, rather than an abrupt political feat.”
“It is extremely disappointing that some councillors felt the need to bring the third paragraph of the motion on the agenda, especially as I had made no secret of my intention to stand down as leader of the council within a couple of months.”
The motion also moved for assurances that full council approval would be required before any more money is allocated to the merger proposal; while a public referendum was demanded with only a majority vote from Babergh District Council to constitute a mandate.
The council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion, by 23 votes.
Repeated requests were made to elect a new leader during the meeting, but these were rejected on grounds of Babergh’s constitution, which states that a new leader must be elected at the following council meeting, with signatures from 15 councillors needed.
This, however, sparked frustration among Tories, who demanded that the opposition accepted the rules.
“I fail to understand why we’re spending so long on the debate about electing a new leader,” said Mrs Osborne.
“You’re only going to have to wait a couple of weeks, so what is the urgency?”
Nick Ridley, councillor for the Brook ward, said: “I have to point out to you, whether you like it or not, the Conservative group is still the largest group by a long way compared to you gentlemen and ladies on the other side.
“I’m not prepared to have us pushed around because of this particular motion – it’s not the right thing to do.”
Mr Bavington reassured the council that he took no pleasure in the motion to remove Mrs Jenkins as council leader, but referred to their friendship and professional relationship in which she had consulted him for advice.
“You’ve often asked me if you should step down and I’ve always said no,” he said.
“You haven’t asked me that question lately. If you had, I hope I would have had the honesty to tell you that it was time for you to go.”
“Perhaps I should have come and told you that anyway, and for that I apologise.”
A new council leader will be elected next year, on Thursday, January 4.