Sandwell Council’s leader has said he will continue in his role until he receives advice from the Labour Party’s national executive committee.

And Cllr Steve Eling added it would be wrong of him to voluntary step down while crucial decisions are still being made on the borough’s budget and services.

His comments come as Labour councillors meet next week to elect a new interim leader of their group.

Party rules require that a new leader is chosen by the 70 councillors but the leadership of the council is decided by all local authority members and so is unaffected by his party’s suspension.

Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell Council.
Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell Council.
 

The internal election will put the Labour dominated council in the extraordinary situation where it has different councillors acting as council and group leader.

Cllr Eling’s membership was suspended after the party’s national executive committee launched an investigation into a complaint against the Abbey ward councillor.

His decision not to step down as leader of the council has led to local Conservative MP,  James Morris, to describe him as a ‘squatter’ without authority to lead.

 

But speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service Cllr Eling said he was in ‘limbo’ until the party issued guidance.

Asked if he will step down after his group chooses a new leader, he said:  “At the moment, I can’t say what will happen as I haven’t been told what is supposed to happen next.”

He added that voluntarily resigning would pre-emptying the situation at a crucial time for the council.

“We are in the middle of the budget which I am in charge of and, quite frankly, to just dump it and walk off won’t be very responsible. I can image James Morris having something to say about that.

“From the point of view of the interests of the people of Sandwell, l am making sure we have a robust budget in place that’s going to deliver services - which is what we are here to do at the end of the day.

"We are at the height of the budget process with me being the lead councillor and, to be perfectly honest, I’m not about to abandon the people of Sandwell at what is a critical time in the municipal year."

Asked if his suspension could affect his re-selection as a Labour candidate in May’s local elections, he said was still waiting to hear what the national party will do.

Nominations for the leader of the council’s Labour group closed on Tuesday and councillors will meet in private on Monday night to choose the successful candidate.