Friday, February 22, 2013
The man in line to become the next Norfolk County Council leader says he wants to make the authority “more open” during his 10-week tenure.
Bill Borrett triumphed over Graham Plant in a secret ballot to decide the new Conservative group county council chairman, and he is set to be formally approved as leader on Monday.
But the Elmham and Mattishall Tory could hold the role for the shortest amount of time in the authority’s history as all 84 county council seats will be up for grabs at elections on May 2.
A leader would then have to be decided once the new council has been selected.
Mr Borrett has held the role of acting county council leader following Derrick Murphy’s decision to temporarily step down last month, and later resign, following a standards hearing into his conduct.
There were calls from the opposition Labour group for a caretaker leader to take charge until May.
But the 84 county councillors will be asked to agree a new leader at an extraordinary meeting on Monday. Mr Borrett will be recommended to become county council leader until the elections.
As the Tories have 59 members and a majority of 35, it is unlikely the farmer at Hoe will be prevented from taking the role.
Mr Borrett said he was “chuffed” to be chosen and his aims included managing the authority’s finances and keeping the same cabinet team together for the final weeks of the Tory administration.
But he said also he wants to work on the council’s “softer skills”. He said this includes being “more open, listening more and involving more people”.
Mr Borrett said: “It’s a more natural style for me and easier to do and I think it’s what’s required. Hopefully it’s a win-win.”
Despite county council elections just weeks away, Mr Borrett insisted it was right to hold yesterday’s leadership contest.
He said: “I think given we had another candidate that wanted to put their name forward, it was the only fair thing we could do and it does give us clear stability to the end of this administration.
“There’s a lot of important jobs to do in the council and for everybody to know what’s happening with the leadership, it’s stable for the next 10 weeks.
“I may go on record as being the shortest leader of the county council. We are talking about 10 weeks and the new council may want to choose a new leader once elected. Who knows what that will bring.”
Defeated candidate Mr Plant said he put himself forward to ensure the leader was selected by the whole of the Tory group.
He said: “Bill is a good bloke. We have no angst. We are where we are. We had no angst during the course of the pre-election or during the vote, nothing at all.
“We draw a line in the sand, we move forward and we present ourselves as a Conservative Party for Norfolk running up to the elections.”
It had been thought Brian Long, also deputy leader of West Norfolk Council, would also stand, but he did not formally submit his nomination.
He told the EDP: “It was obvious to me as I was making contact with other members I wasn’t going to achieve enough support to make a dent one way or the other. I withdrew but live to fight another day.”
George Nobbs, Labour group leader at County Hall, said he would have preferred a “respected” caretaker leader until May.
He said: “I think that given we are less than two months away from a county council election, which many of the people who voted for Mr Borrett will not be councillors after and the two main candidates today may not retain their seats, it would have been altogether more seemly for the Conservatives to have left the decision to those who the electorate return in May.”
Today’s election took place after former leader Derrick Murphy resigned. He did so last month, to focus on a standards hearing he was facing.
At that hearing he was cleared, by a committee of fellow councillors, of six of seven claims he had breached the council’s code of conduct, but on one count he was found to have committed a breach.
That one count related to him bringing his office into disrepute because he had asked Kevin Vaughan, a political assistant to Mr Murphy’s Conservative group to claim it was so-called twin hatter councillors –county councillors who also serve on West Norfolk Council – not Mr Murphy, who asked him to send an email to the BBC.
The committee imposed three sanctions: A letter of censure will be sent by the committee to Mr Murphy; a report of the breach will be made to a meeting of the full council and Mr Murphy will be required to undergo training in ethics and standards.
Mr Murphy then announced he would not be seeking a return as chairman and then revealed he and his wife Janet, also a county councillor, would not be standing in May’s county council elections.