Former city boss ‘heartbroken’ at losing leader role

Donna Jones
Donna Jones
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan

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FORMER Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones said she was ‘heartbroken’ after a shock turn that saw her replaced at yesterday’s annual general meeting.

The Tory boss was booted out in favour of Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson who received one more vote than her.

Cllr Jones resigned from the post in order to give the council the chance to vote on their leader after recent elections left the local authority with no strong majority party.

She also cited the Lib Dems’ vote of no confidence in her as a reason, believing the vote would avoid a difficult situation.

In response to the technical resignation, Lib Dem Councillor Steve Pitt nominated Cllr Vernon-Jackson for the position.

He received 21 votes compared to Cllr Jones’ 20, in a result that the new leader said left him ‘gobsmacked.’

Cllr Jones has decided to remain as leader of the Tory party but voiced her disappointment.

She said: ‘I am absolutely heartbroken to no longer be leader of the city council. It has been such a privilege and honour to serve the city that I love.

‘Winning the vote would’ve given me a mandate to run the council.’

Cllr Jones claimed she was led to believe the Labour party would abstain from the vote and had no indication they would vote unanimously against her. 

She added: ‘The way in which the change of leader was done was not nice, it was a complete shock both for us and for the new Lib Dem administration.

‘This was something that should have been done in advance but neither I or the Lib Dems had any indication they would vote at all.

‘When I took over the council four years ago I gave Cllr Vernon-Jackson plenty of warning that it would happen.’

Labour councillor and MP Stephen Morgan said his party had voted for fresh leadership.

‘The council’s chief executive advised the Labour group on options for the running of the administration as is customary and the group informed him of its voting intentions well in advance of full council,’ he said.

Mr Morgan added: ‘Today the Labour group voted with the Lib Dems to end four years of Tory rule in Portsmouth. Cllr Vernon-Jackson, as the new council leader, must now work with other parties on the city council. 

‘The Labour group will support the administration if and when it is in the best interests of the city and delivers our positive plan for a fairer Portsmouth, a city which works for everyone.

‘The council’s chief executive advised the Labour Group on options for the running of the administration as is customary and the group informed him of its voting intentions well in advance of full council.’

Cllr Vernon-Jackson shared Cllr Jones’ surprise. He said: ‘We had no idea what the Labour party were going to do. My expectation was that the Conservatives were going to remain as the administration.’

He was eager to work with other parties in the future.

‘The next step is to meet with councillors from all the different groups to try to work together. I am meeting with the other parties over the weekend and Cllr Jones and I will have a handover at some point.’

The former leader expressed some concerns about pending projects for the city.  Cllr Jones added: ‘There are a number of schemes and projects for the city that I have been involved in such as the City Centre Northern development and the homes at Hilsea and Tipner. The change in administration could put these at risk.

‘But I wish the Lib Dems all the best.’