A SITTING Labour councillor has been deselected by the local branch of his party in an early upset ahead of next May’s local authority elections in Barnsley.

The decision by the Stairfoot branch to choose former councillor Karen Dyson as the Labour candidate means Coun Wayne Johnson, who currently holds the seat to be contested, has to make a decision over his political future.

He has been offered the opportunity to stand for Labour in the neighbouring Worsbrough ward but still has the option of standing as an independent candidate for the Stairfoot ward, which he will have represented for eight years by the time his term ends.

So far, the 65 year old has not made a decision but said he would be reluctant to be seen as 'running away' to a different ward by the community of Stairfoot which he had represented for so long.

Coun Johnson said the Stairfoot branch of the Labour party decided to hold a contest for the seat, when in many cases a sitting councillor is automatically selected as the election candidate.

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A contest was held at the town hall, with 18 people voting from a total branch membership of around 70, with Coun Johnson losing by 11 votes to seven.

In his bid to stand as candidate, he had pointed to his strong attendance record at council meetings and energetic work on community based projects.

His attendance record for the current term stands at 93 per cent, which is higher than some colleagues and also based on a high figure of 132 meetings to date, with Coun Johnson attending 123 of those.

The number of meetings he is booked to attend is high because he is involved in a relatively large number of council committees.

Coun Johnson is a familiar figure in Barnsley, in business with the Mr Wayne menswear shop on Eldon Street from 1973 to 1998 and most recently running a market stall until retiring when the temporary hall on May Day Green closed last year.

He said: “It is whether I let the people of Stairfoot down and don’t represent them, or accept I will sail off into the sunset. Perhaps I am not ready for that.

“The jury is still out on what I will do in May. Everyone I have spoken to says I need to stand as an independent.

“I have been offered the Worsbrough seat to stand for. What I don’t want is members of the Stairfoot community seeing me jump ship for Worsbrough when I have not jumped ship, I have been pushed overboard.

“I am not abandoning Stairfoot and I want to get that message across.”

In his political career to date, Coun Johnson has acted as chairman of the Central Area Council, a body which represents communities around the town centre, with a council budget to spend on projects to benefit those areas.

He is also chairman of the Stairfoot Ward Alliance, another body with the district’s interests a heart, which involves councillors and others with strong community credentials.

One of its most recent successes has been to support the installation of a monument, made up of railway wheels and track, to mark the location of the former Stairfoot railway station, harking back to the community’s history in heavy industry.

The deselection development comes after a change in complexion of Barnsley Council in the last two years, which has seen the Lib Dem party gain a foothold and they become the second largest party on the authority, at the expense of the Conservatives.

The official opposition is now made up of independents and members of minority parties, however.

* Provided by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.