Birmingham & Black Country

Local elections 2019: What happens when councils change hands?

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLocal elections: What are they all about?

With just a day until polling stations open, every party vying for control wants an outright majority so they can do what they promised their voters. Without it they can struggle to make long-lasting changes. So what happens when control of a council swaps from one party to another year on year?

Voters are constantly reminded that every ballot paper counts, that the future direction of the services they pay for and rely on - from bins to social care - can be determined by how many councillors each party has.

In 97 of the 248 councils holding elections on Thursday, a third of the seats are up for election three years out of every four.

For some, that can mean the party that wins the most seats one year could well be out of power again the next - or even sooner.

For others the ceremonial mayor, normally there to chair meetings, cut ribbons and present awards, ends up with a pivotal role.

Stability or stagnation?

Image caption In Dudley, Labour took control from the Conservatives last year

In Dudley in the West Midlands, Labour are defending a lead of just one seat over the Conservatives.

The party took control from the Conservatives in September last year, having themselves lost power in 2017.

Labour councillor Tim Crumpton said the changes in control were "a bit like trying to run a business, but having a new manager come in every year with a slightly different plan".

He said the parties had tried to talk to each other more in a bid to keep things moving.

"If you flip and flop, all the work you've done over the last few years, unless it suits the incoming party, you tend to stagnate," he said.

Image caption Walsall Council leader Mike Bird says four-yearly elections would bring stability

About eight miles away in Walsall, councillors have been exploring whether to change to holding one election every four years, instead of three out of every four.

No party has had a majority on Walsall Council since 2011 and a swing of just one seat could see overall control change.

In May last year, the council was deadlocked but the Conservatives had become the biggest party with 30 out of 60 seats.

They took control because the mayor, Councillor Marco Longhi, used his casting vote to re-elect himself to serve a second term and was able to use it to break other ties.

Image caption The local authority in Walsall has been in no overall control since 2011

Council leader Mike Bird said changing to elections every four years would enable bosses to plan for the long term.

"With four-yearly elections what you have got is stability," he said. "When one political party gets in they try to unpick what's [been done] in the past and by the time they have done that you are halfway [to the next election]."

Mr Bird said he was used to working without a majority but said "the impact on residents has come from reductions in funding more than anything and choices that I would make are not necessarily choices the Labour group would make".

Does it affect residents?

Image caption Mary Hopkins said having a good councillor mattered more than who controlled the authority

Mother-of-four Kelly Flanagan, 37, from Walsall, said: "The only thing I notice when a council changes politics is that things get cut. People are living in poverty and whoever is in [charge] things get worse and worse.

"All I notice after elections is that there are grand plans that never seem to go anywhere."

Mary Hopkins, 75, said she does not worry when a council control changes and "you just have to know a good councillor to get things done".

Johnny Singh, who runs a newsagents in Dudley town centre, said: "It doesn't matter who's in, things get worse.

"There was a butcher over the road who was there for 50 years and when the council closed the roads to resurface, that killed them off.

"Whoever is in it just seems to be about the council making the most money."

Will we even notice?

The rosette-sporting candidates may be cheering or commiserating in the early hours, but life goes on.

Dr Matt Cole, a political expert at the University of Birmingham, said local authorities had specialist, experienced staff who know the organisation and the day-to-day running of things to advise councillors.

"Sometimes there's a strong political impetus to make a change," he said.

"Sometimes a leader can make a dramatic change and challenge the staff of the council. These things can work to dramatic effect, they can drive big changes."

However, he said there was usually an element of "continuity in politics" and some shared policies in any case.

"Far more stays the same than changes," he added.

Click for a full list of candidates in Dudley and Walsall.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites