A FORMER Labour councillor has joined the Green Party in a boost for the group on Wirral Council ahead of the forthcoming knife-edge local elections.

Cllr Jo Bird was expelled by Labour last November and has stood as an Independent since. The Bromborough councillor said she was joining the Greens as the party shared her commitment to “social and environmental justice”.

The news comes on the same day former Green Party councillor Steve Hayes, who has stood as an Independent since 2020, said he was quitting Wirral Council and made a stinging attack on his former party.

On her decision to join the Greens, Cllr Bird said: “I stood to promote justice and equality, protect lives and livelihoods, enhance jobs, services and our environment and oppose cruel cuts. But Labour and Conservative councillors have just voted for cuts to frontline council services. Only the Green councillors voted for my budget proposals to save Wirral libraries and Europa fun pool.”

The former Labour councillor added: “I’m becoming a Green councillor because the Green Party is better for Bromborough and better for me. The Greens are doing excellent work for Wirral people all year round and we share a commitment to social and environmental justice.

“The Greens promote public services, road safety, cleaner air, healthier communities, insulated affordable homes and more. Wirral Greens treat people fairly. I now hope to stand for re-election as a Green councillor for Bromborough next year in May 2023.”

Cllr Bird was expelled from the Labour Party for supporting a group banned by the party, the LDRS understands, although the former Labour councillor said she was kicked out for speaking at a meeting of the group three years ago and signing a petition in early 2020, even though the group was only banned last July.

Wirral Council’s budget was passed on February 28 and featured £20m worth of cuts, with the council set to withdraw funding for nine libraries, Woodchurch Leisure Centre and two public golf courses among other leisure services. In the case of the leisure centre and the libraries, money is being made available to support local groups who want to keep the services going.

Labour and the Conservatives voted for the budget, arguing cuts had to be made to eliminate the budget deficit and that if they were not made there was a risk of government commissioners coming in and imposing much harsher measures. The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Cllr Bird, an Independent at the time, voted against the budget. The cuts package was voted through after two government reports, published last November, slated the council for failing to take tough decisions and criticised councillors for being focused on “political point scoring”.

Cllr Bird’s move brings the number of Green Party councillors on Wirral Council up to six. The group does not have nearly as many councillors as Labour (27) or the Conservatives (23), but it now has the same number of councillors as the Liberal Democrats (6).

All of the Green Party’s current councillors are in former Labour-held wards, meaning the party’s growth has played a big role in depriving Labour of the majority it had until 2019. On the same day Cllr Bird switched to the Green Party, Steve Hayes, former Green councillor turned Independent, resigned his Birkenhead and Tranmere seat.

Mr Hayes was not up for re-election until next year, but his resignation means voters in Birkenhead and Tranmere will elect two councillors on May 5. As well as the seat Mr Hayes will vacate, Cllr Pat Cleary, who leads the Green Party group on the council, is up for election in the ward.

Mr Hayes, who voted for the budget, said he was leaving the council for personal reasons but was heavily critical of his former group, calling the Green Party’s vote against the budget “disgraceful”, and said he will be voting for Labour on May 5 as its councillors “put party politics aside to work for residents and helped pass a fair and balanced budget forced upon us in the most difficult circumstances”.

Mr Hayes added: “Although stepping away from the Green Party some time ago I have been particularly disappointed by what I consider irresponsible voting in recent meetings pertaining to the budget. The two government reports issued in the run-up could not have been clearer and I believe that if we actually cared about our residents and to keep any kind of decision-making in local hands we had to work together. Instead, the Green Party seemed to vote politically as some kind of protest vote, not even agreeing to vote for our budget.

“How that appeared to the Independent panel who are watching and reporting back to the government worries me. The Green Party’s opportunism for scoring divisive political points is gambling with the possibility of the government commissioners coming in and that threat is very real and would probably affect our regeneration plans, green belt and services negatively. It appeared reckless at best and goes against any idea of cooperation and collaboration the Green Party I once believed [in] is supposed to stand for.”

Cllr Pat Cleary, leader of the now six-strong Green group on Wirral Council, said: “I’m absolutely over the moon to have a councillor of Jo Bird’s quality on board. It shows the strength of the Green Party that we can attract someone of her calibre. Jo is one of the most principled and hardest working councillors, this takes us to a new level.”

The Birkenhead and Tranmere councillor also hit back at Steve Hayes, and added: “He’s a forgotten man in Birkenhead. Nobody in Birkenhead knows who he is. Since he left our group he’s absolved himself of any activity. He wasn’t engaging with residents and never brought any motions to council.”