WIRRAL'S former council leader has officially taken up the mayoral chains of office tonight.
Labour's Steve Foulkes was installed as the borough’s new civic leader at the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton, with fiancee Elaine Nolan becoming mayoress.
Heswall Conservative Les Rowlands and wife Paula are deputy mayor and mayoress.
But the ceremony was marred by controversy when, in a break with traditional cross-party unity, 50 councillors voted in favour of Cllr Foulkes' nomination, four Consevatives and Green Party councillor Pat Cleary voted against and 10 abstained.
On becoming mayor, Cllr Foulkes told the Globe: "It's a great honour, with immense responsibilty. I know I may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but I will work really hard to unite the borough.
“I’ve always only ever done my best for the borough and as mayor, this wil be no exception. In this job I will continue to do my best for the borough."
His three chosen charities are Stick'n'Step, which helps provide conductive education to children with cerebral palsy; Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and Wirral Foodbank.
Cllr Foulkes continued "We've met lots of people from different charities, but these are the three that really touched us.
"I chose Stick’n’Step because of the unique way it helps people who are challenged and their lives are enhanced.
"I decided to support the cancer charity, because we have the most fantastic facility on our doorstep. We all know someone whose life has been blighted by cancer and I’m keen to support charities that help fight back against the disease.
"Wirral Foodbank is run by genuinely caring people who are in crisis. It takes steps to stop them getting deeper in crisis.
"As I said in my speech, we are only a few wage packets away, or a very serious accident away, from being in a situation of crisis. There, but by the grace of God go I, which is why I’m also pleased to support the charity."
Among those who voted against Cllr Foulkes was outspoken Conservative councillor Chris Blakeley, who was hauled before a disciplinary standards committee last year after saying he believed the former council leader was "not fit" to be mayor.
Following these remarks, Cllr Foulkes made a complaint under the Members’ Code of Conduct.
However, the investigation concluded Cllr Blakeley was “acting in his official capacity” when he made the comments and that no breach of the code had occurred.
Speaking prior to tonight's ceremony, Cllr Blakeley told the Globe his opposition to Cllr Foulkes would continue. "My position has been clear all year and it's certainly not going to change now.
"I will vote against Cllr Foulkes. I know this won’t be popular with the Labour group; it may also upset some of my colleagues and some of the council’s invited guests.
"But I will remain true to my views. I will stand up and be counted.”
In a break with tradition, mayor-making had moved from the Civic Hall at Wallasey Town Hall to the Floral Pavilion Theatre. Tories had opposed the change.
The civic honour is especially important this year as Wirral welcomes the return of the Open Golf Championship in July.
Council leader Phil Davies, who nominated Cllr Foulkes for mayor, said: "I think it's a shame that the tories voted against Steve.
"My group's always taken the view that the mayoralty should be above politics, and it's sad that a sizeable portion of the Conservative group abstained, and four of them voted against, as well as the new Green councillor.
"It's a shame because, obviously, Steve's family and friends were here, so it should have been a nice night and council should have been unanimous in its support.
"It's left a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth."