THE Mayor of Blaenau Gwent Mike Bartlett defected to the Labour group amid rumours of a crumbling independent executive and a possible power shift at Blaenau Gwent council, the Argus reveals today.

Cllr Bartlett, who was elected mayor just four months ago, quit the independents for Labour and is said to be the first of a number of councillors who could jump ship, tipping the balance of power in Labour's favour.

At the moment, the independents have a majority of 25 over 16 Labour councillors and one non-affiliated councillor Nigel Daniels.

But Labour would only need five more members to switch to have an overall majority and regain control of the authority.

Cllr Mike Bartlett said: “I have had serious misgivings about the direction that the independent leadership were taking the council for some time now, there has been a series of damaging and costly measures in the last two years which have left the council in crisis.

"I know that as a member of the Labour Group I will be far better placed to stand up for our patch. The Labour Party in Blaenau Gwent has been going through a cathartic experience itself in recent years and I must say that they have emerged far stronger for that experience, it is clear to anyone who visits the council chamber that it is Labour who has had its eye on the ball, and it is Labour that has been posing the right questions.”

Labour group leader Hedley McCarthy said: I am delighted to welcome this move from such a high profile figure.

"For the Mayor to come across to Labour speaks volumes, as a ward colleague I must say we have worked well together on the big issues that have affected the Llanhilleth ward and will continue to do so."

The defection is the latest blow in what has been a devastating month for the independent administration.

Three weeks ago the Argus exclusively revealed it had failed its children when an inspection revealed shocking levels of pupil performance.

Wales’ school inspectors Estyn also revealed the authority has major failings in its education provision and has been graded as “unsatisfactory” which is the worst grade awarded.

As a result the council was stripped of its executive powers over education, placed in special measures and a board from Neath Port Talbot council set up to run the department.

A week later the Wales Audit Office launched an investigation into the overall running of the council.

Almost two weeks ago council leader Des Hillman was given power to appoint new members of the executive, saying he intended to draw on all the talent of the authority, including Labour councillors to present a united front.

As yet no new appointments have been made, with all executive positions still being filled by independent councillors.

But with change inevitable and talk of new appointments being made this week, some independent councillors that lose out on their executive positions could be looking for a new home in the Labour camp.