Labour pick for next council leader revealed

Successor to Clare Coghill chosen by Labour councillors, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Labour councillor Grace Williams, council leader-elect of Waltham Forest Council
Labour councillor Grace Williams, council leader-elect (credit Waltham Forest Council)

Grace Williams is set to become the new leader of Waltham Forest Council after being backed by Labour group members in a vote last night.

Former leader Clare Coghill, the first woman to lead the council, announced she was stepping down on 18th June. If Labour’s choice to replace her is accepted by a vote of the full council, she will be succeeded by the borough’s second female leader.

Cllr Williams, of William Morris ward in Walthamstow, is currently the cabinet member in charge of children and families. In a statement today, she said she was “honoured” to be selected after “a lifetime in public service, as a civil servant, teacher, and community organiser”.

She said: “It has been an incredibly difficult year for the Labour group with the impact of Covid-19 and the loss of our former leader and mayor of the borough, the late Chris Robbins, but we have drawn strength from the commitment of each of us to the Labour cause.

“I look forward to working together with colleagues across the Labour movement to set out our vision for a more equal, prosperous and resilient borough ahead of the local elections in for May 2022.

“Our immediate focus will be to lead a recovery from the pandemic focused on jobs, tackling the climate emergency, affordable homes, supporting our children and creating a more equal borough.

“I’d like to thank Clare Coghill for her dedication to the borough as a councillor since 2010 and leader since 2017.”

Cllr Williams will remain only leader-elect of the council, rather than formally assuming the role, until the decision is voted on by all councillors at the next full council meeting.

However, the council meeting scheduled for later this month, on 15th July, has been cancelled and does not yet appear to have been rescheduled, so there could be a long wait.

In her current cabinet role, Cllr Williams has been involved in the plans for the new “families and homes hub” being built on the former site of the Wood Street Library.

She was also involved in the controversial decision to cut funding for children with special educational needs last year, which parents unsuccessfully tried to challenge in the High Court.

Former leader Cllr Coghill stepped down after four years in the role and eleven as a councillor for High Street ward, confirming she will not run for re-election next year. 

She was absent from the cabinet’s first-ever meeting in the newly renovated Waltham Forest Town Hall, on 22nd June, with Cllr Loakes chairing the meeting in her stead.

In a statement announcing her departure, she said being a councillor had been the “most rewarding, fulfilling, and exciting journey” of her life but it was now “time to stand aside”.

Cllr Coghill is one of four London borough leaders to step down since the start of the pandemic, including the leaders of Croydon, Lambeth and Islington councils.

Update: An earlier version of this story suggested Cann Hall ward councillor Sally Littlejohn had also stood against Cllr Williams for the leadership, however Waltham Forest’s Labour group has since confirmed that only High Street ward councillor Liaquat Ali challenged her in the selection process.