ROSSENDALE'S first ever Liberal Democrat councillor could find himself playing kingmaker after the 2003 elections left Rossendale a hung council.

Along with independent Alan Neal, Lib Dem Philip Young could hand either the Tories or Labour control after each of the main parties ended the night with 17 seats each.

There was cross party concensus that a 15 per cent hike in council tax had been an issue at the forefront of voters' minds, as well as the Audit Commission report last year which placed the council 237 out of 237 nationwide for its services.

Labour group leader and former council leader Coun Graham Pearson said: "I'm disappointed because I thought we deserved another chance -- we had begun to pull the council round and the measures we have taken are starting to show results.

"The council tax rise probably also came into it, because it is a large increase. But we haven't done as badly as some Labour groups elsewhere.We are still a major player on this council and we will be talking to everybody about the way forward."

Conservative leader Coun Neil Smith said: "We are elated. This is a vindication of what we were doing 12 months ago when we were in power.

"We will obviously have to talk to the other non-Labour councillors. At the end of the day we all have to run Rossendale."


LAB 17

CON 17