Westminster council leader resigns after clash: 'Political disagreements' fuelled power struggle

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The Independent Online
THE Conservative leader of Westminster City Council resigned yesterday after a power struggle with officials provoked a revolt within his own party. David Weeks, who succeeded Dame Shirley Porter two years ago, said that his resignation was the 'result of political disagreements over my approach to the council's management'.

He stepped down after a heated meeting of Tory councillors on Monday night at which his leadership of the London council, one of the most controversial in Britain, was criticised. His bitter power struggle with Mervyn Montacute, the council's managing director, whom Mr Weeks wanted to remove, particularly worried councillors.

The dispute came to a head in April when senior council officials raided Mr Weeks's offices on the orders of Mr Montacute to see if council employees or resources were being used for political purposes. Some documents were taken away. A council spokesman yesterday said they included 'begging letters for Tory party funds'. BBC's Newsnight last night said that one letter was sent to a council contractor, the market research agency MORI.

Mr Weeks, 46, was deputy leader to Dame Shirley from 1983 to 1991 when Westminster was noted for its aggressively Thatcherite policies. In 1987 the council sold three cemeteries to a company for 5p as part of a cost-cutting campaign. But the privatisation deal backfired and last year the council bought them back for 15p, but had to accept an expensive maintenance agreement.

Further controversy is likely in September with the publication of of a four-year investigation into allegations that the Conservatives manipulated council house sales to ensure that they won elections. John Magill, the District Auditor, seized papers relating to the allegations, said to involve millions of pounds, from Westminster City Hall earlier this year.

Labour claims the Tories forced Mr Weeks's hand partly to get rid of a man so closely associated with Dame Shirley. Peter Bradley, Labour's deputy leader, said: 'This is a typically efficient and cynical Tory exercise in damage limitation. He was disposed of so the Tories can claim to be squeaky clean when the District Auditor's report comes out.'

Simon Milton, Mr Weeks's deputy, will act as Tory leader until a successor is elected.