WIRRAL Council's first female leader in 30 years was elected last night and rubber-stamped "a major change" in how the authority will operate.

Cllr Janette Williamson, a Labour councillor who has represented Liscard since 2012, was voted in during the online full council meeting.

She replaces Cllr Pat Hackett, who stepped down from the role on Friday.

She is the first woman to be appointed as a council leader in the Liverpool City Region and the second in Wirral's history, after Cllr Yvonne Nolan in 1990-91.

Cllr Anita Leech was voted in as deputy leader.

During last night's meeting, councillors voted through a change in the constitution which means the council will now be led by a committee system rather than the 'Strong leader/cabinet' model which had been in place for the previous decade.

Cllr Williamson said: "Council voted to move back to the committee system last year in an effort to introduce a more accountable and transparent way of working and collaborative policy and decision-making.

"I am becoming council leader at a time when the leader's role is changing, so I see this as an exciting and challenging opportunity to help shape how elected members work together to make a difference to people's lives."

Looking to the future, Cllr Williamson continued: "We are living through a time of great crisis with COVID-19 and all that brings, not least the long-term impact it will undoubtedly have on the local economy even once it is over.

"But even as we continue to guide and support residents and businesses through another challenging period caused by the pandemic, there is still much we can look forward to in Wirral.

"We have fantastic regeneration plans ahead of us.

"We have a local plan which will provide much needed housing for residents and we have security for our care workers as we have pledged to pay them the Real Living Wage.

"We have a community bank and community wealth building strategy.

"We have amazing officers, staff, care workers, NHS staff, entrepreneurs and more importantly the determination to make Wirral grow and flourish not despite, but because of all the challenges that face us.

"Now is the time for elected members to embrace this new way of working together in support of each and every one of those people we serve."

Outgoing leader, Cllr Pat Hackett, added: "I'm immensely proud to have served as the Leader of Wirral Council, particularly through these most difficult of times recently.

"Seeing how Wirral people came together to support each other - particularly our most vulnerable residents - is something I'll remember forever.

"I fully expect, as we are entering seemingly more challenging weeks and months ahead, that our amazing communities will step up again.

"Introducing the committee system represents a new era for Wirral Council and is the perfect time for it to happen.

"Every important decision will now be made by a representative committee and all members will find themselves in a position of power to influence how those decisions are reached."

Under the new constitution, the former leadership model which placed decision-making powers in the hands of a leader and 10-member cabinet is replaced by a committee structure consisting of seven policy committees, and regulatory, statutory and other committees.

Wirral's Conservatives group leader, Ian Lewis said: "Party politics aside, congratulations on being elected Leader of Wirral Council.

"Big challenges and issues to be addressed by us all. And delighted Labour is finally electing women leaders."

Cllr Williamson will chair the Policy and Resources committee, with the Deputy Leader of Wirral Council, Cllr Anita Leech, also serving as deputy on that committee.

The other policy committees are:-

• Adult Social Care and Health

• Children, Young People and Education

• Economy, Regeneration and Development

• Housing

• Tourism, Communities, Culture and Leisure

• Environment, Climate Emergency and Transport

Other regulatory and statutory committees cover areas such as Planning, Licensing, Standards and Constitution, Pensions and Audit and Risk Management.

In a further development during last night's meeting, Cllr Tony Smith and Cllr George Davies were asked to continue to serve at Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Wirral for the remainder of the civic year, until May 2021.