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COUNTY COUNCIL LEADERSHIP: New chief expecting 'mammoth task'

Herald Series: Ian Hudspeth after his victory Ian Hudspeth after his victory

IAN HUDSPETH last night promised to bring fresh ideas and a new approach to Oxfordshire County Council after winning the battle to succeed Keith Mitchell.

Mr Hudspeth, 52, was voted in as the new leader of the ruling Conservative group at the council during a secret ballot yesterday, defeating the current deputy leader David Robertson.

Mr Mitchell will stand down as leader of the council officially on Tuesday, May 15, and a vote by all councillors will be taken to formally anoint Mr Hudspeth as his successor. That will be a mere formality given the Tories’ dominance.

It is a political comeback for Mr Hudspeth, who has represented Woodstock since 2005. He was ejected from Mr Mitchell’s cabinet last year after unsuccessfully standing against him in a leadership contest.

Oxfordshire County Council is responsible for about 80 per cent of all public sector spending in Oxfordshire and Mr Hudspeth will control a budget of about £970m.

He will oversee services such as the county’s state schools, highways, fire and rescue service, social care, libraries and waste disposal.

After the vote, Mr Hudspeth said: “My first job is going to be sitting down and working out who is going to be on the cabinet and scrutiny committees and make sure we use the talent we have got to our best advantage.

“We have got to make sure we deliver first-class services to the residents of Oxfordshire, and that is going to be my main priority.”

Asked why he thought his colleagues had voted for him, he said: “You will have to ask them that question.

“But I would hope they can see that I am bringing fresh ideas and a new approach to the county council.

“I feel very elated and very pleased and very honoured with the result. But there was a moment I thought ‘crikey, this is a mammoth task I am taking on and a massive pair of shoes to fill’.”

Mr Robertson, 70, said: “I am feeling remarkably okay.

“I am looking now to go and do other things in life outside of the council. In some ways it has done me a favour.

“It is important that a new leader is given the space to do what he wants to do. Keith has stood down and is standing back and I am likely to do the same.

“Ian won fair and square and should be given room and space and not have me hovering around in the background.

“He has got to be given space and he has my support to do that.”

He said he will spend more time at work – he owns a company that sells file transfer processes to local authorities – and will remain a councillor for Witney East.

Mr Mitchell, who has been council leader for more than 10 years, said: “Ian has my full support.

“I congratulate him and wish him well. It is a tough job but a great one.”

The race was expected to be three-way, but backbencher Pete Handley pulled out on Wednesday and backed Mr Hudspeth.

The Conservative group did not release information about how many votes each candidate received, but the Oxford Mail understands Mr Hudspeth won conclusively.

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