THE under-fire leader of Blaenau Gwent council is calling for his critics in his own group to stop "anonymous sniping" and get on with the job of running the council.
Yesterday Councillor Hedley McCarthy hit back at the criticism as "sour grapes" and said such talk was "destabilising the council".
He hit back after sources in the Labour group told the Argus he is facing fresh criticism just a week after the Argus was given letters which said he has been accused of not doing enough to get education out of special measures.
A source told the Argus at a meeting of the Labour party at the beginning of the year there was a a leadership challenge over concerns about the leader in relation to education.
The source said ‘leading’ Labour group members are calling for an emergency group meeting to discuss the ‘leadership crisis’ within the council. The source said Cllr McCarthy is failing to take responsibility for failures within the council and a lot of the criticism comes from within the Labour party.
The source said: “Hedley managed to hold on by telling the Labour group he would bow out half way through his term in office in a bid to fend off attack and he didn’t want to show weakness by going straight away - now members want him out.”
Another source, close to the Labour party in Blaenau Gwent, told the Argus: “There was a meeting of the Labour group in January or February, where they called for him (Hedley) to go. That’s true.
“The pressure is on Hedley to bow out gracefully, but he doesn’t seem willing to go – he’s prepared to take everyone down with him by the looks of it.
“He said he would leave and he’s not. There’s a lot of disgruntled Labour councillors who are asking for Steve Thomas (the deputy leader) to hold a meeting.”
Cllr Steve Thomas said: “This is news to me. My view is all Blaenau Gwent councillors know the council is in a serious financial climate at the moment and has had to take some pretty stern measures. I’m focussing on that, getting on with the job.
"No one has made me aware of a meeting to discuss leadership. I have not been asked by anyone to hold a meeting – that would be down to the chairman of the Labour group in Blaenau Gwent cllr Derrick Bevan."
Cllr Bevan said: “Yes, we had our usual meeting at the beginning of the year. Leadership was discussed and the leader was voted back in.”
When asked if the leader was asked to step down or resign halfway through, he said: “No, not really. It was suggested but it did not go any further. No one has asked me to hold a meeting.”
Cllr McCarthy hit back: “It’s important to note we have a collective leadership here at Blaenau Gwent. No one is saying anything within the party as far as I’m aware. If they had a complaint they would come to me.
“I'm not halfway through my term in office for one thing. There was no challenge to my leadership - I was elected unanimously. There is no pressure on me to bow out. I am not planning to resign.
“I do have a distaste for anonymous sniping. I am doubtful that people loyal to the Labour party would do something like this, because they should understand the difficulties we are in and the progress we are making.
“As far as I am concerned the Labour group is united.”
He added: "In 39 years of being a member of the party – I was first elected when I was 25 – what I know for sure is a divided party is no good to anyone. It’s time people stopped these shenanigans and got on with the job.”
The first source also said the minority Independents were looking to have a vote of no confidence in the council’s leadership which could see some labour councillors joining them.
John Hopkins, leader of the independents, said: “We have always got that intention. Twelve months ago I spoke very clearly and asked the leader to stand down in the best interests if the council and the community, because auditors said in their reports that he was ineffective.
“He said no. That was his decision. The problem is the council is not improving in any way. He is unable to solve any problems and he’s really negating his responsibilities by asking the deputy leader to be the spokesperson within the council.
“His leadership is not respected within the council and most importantly, the message coming from the community is unless he stands down the public are going to lose confidence in the total council.
“The council is in bad straights and it’s the leader who has overall responsibility. I don’t know what the Labour group are going to do – we independents have only 10 members. The Labour party are the only ones who can remove him. But the council is in a poor state of health and because of that I think no one wants to take the job of leader on.
“I’m having no end of calls from the community saying, 'what’s he doing?' I’m just passing on the message for the community – that there needs to be a change of leadership."
Cllr McCarthy said Cllr Hopkins' claims of failure in the council rankled with recent positive reports from the Welsh Audit Office and Estyn, and being singled out by Lesley Griffiths AM as a council making "significant improvements" at a recent Welsh Local Government Association conference.
"It's despicable," he said. "It's blatant hypocrisy and is destabilising the council at a time when we've just got onto a firm financial footing. It's just sour grapes."