THE Labour opposition on Bolton Council has said it 'does not wish to make political capital’ amid a crisis for the ruling Conservative group which has seen two of their councillors quit the party and the breakdown of a working agreement with Liberal Democrats.

On Tuesday, Conservative councillors Beverley Fletcher, who represents Breightmet and Diane Parkinson, one of the members for Hulton, resigned from the Tories and will sit as independents.

In another blow to the minority Conservative controlled authority, the Lib Dems, who have seven Bolton councillors, ended their working arrangement with the Tories, citing their adoption to the fold of another political defector, Anna Marie Watters, a councillor for Westhoughton South, who joined the Conservative group after sitting as an independent.

The fallout means Labour is now the largest group on the council with 18 members, the Conservatives on 16, Liberal Democrats seven, Farnworth and Kearsley First have four, Horwich and Blackrod First two, UKIP two and the One Kearsley party one.

There are also eight independent councillors.

The working agreement was signed in 2019 and had a 25 point plan on which the parties agreed to work together.

It handed the Tories control and included their members along with the Liberal Democrats, Farnworth and Kearsley First,  Horwich and Blackrod First and UKIP.

With the Liberal Democrats withdrawing, that loose grouping no longer gives an overall majority within the council chamber,

The turmoil comes as the council prepares to set a budget next month, in which £39m of cuts are proposed over two years.

The council has a legal obligation to set a balanced budget in February.

Despite heading the largest political group on the council, Labour leader Cllr Nick Peel said stability in Bolton was needed at a time of national crisis.

He said: “We are extremely lucky in Bolton to have so many dedicated and hard working staff, who are doing their upmost to protect lives and livelihoods across our borough.

“All attention needs to be focussed on supporting our staff in this fight against covid.

“Bolton Labour will do nothing that gets in the way of this task.

“Following the withdrawal of the Lib Dems from the coalition, and the resignation of two Tory councillors, it is clear that the Conservative Group no longer command a clear majority.

“However, Bolton Labour will not be seeking to make any political capital out of this crisis by destabilising the council even more than it has been already.

“This would be the worst possible move to make, that would ultimately cause damage to our already struggling population.

“The fight against Covid comes first, and we will continue to be supportive of the council in its efforts to fight this pandemic, and we will continue to do our duty to the people of Bolton, which is to be a constructive opposition when we know they are getting things wrong.”

Council leader Cllr David Greenhalgh said the Conservatives would continue to work for the people of Bolton in collaboration with other political groups.

He said: “We run an open and transparent council, I meet with all the leaders of those in the 25 point plan every week.

“They have access and influence, and personally I enjoy the close working we have and respect each of them.

“We share information and have done during this pandemic with all parties in the spirit of working together to benefit our borough at this time.”