New Norfolk County Council chairman hopes to help young people

As a 17-year-old, Shelagh Hutson had a choice between joining her local Conservative Association or signing up to the Young Farmers Group.

She chose the former marking the start of a lifelong interest in politics. And now the 73-year-old is planning to make boosting the skills and opportunities for young people a key part of her year as chairman of Norfolk County Council

Mrs Hutson, who was sworn in as chairman at a meeting on this week, said that politics has been one of the great loves of her life.

As well as being a county councillor for Downham Market, she was previously the parliamentary agent in South-West Norfolk where she worked with MPs Paul Hawkins and Gillian Shepherd. More recently she was a cabinet member for children's services.

Voters go the polls in district council elections and for a referendum on the changing the voting system at Westminster, and Mrs Hutson admitted her initial interest in politics was as much social as political.

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'In those days it was should I joint the Young Conservatives or the Young Farmers and I joined the Young Conservatives,' she said. 'My theme for the year is young people and I will be working particularly closely with Easton College. So many young people believe that they have to go to university, but there is so much more out there in terms of training and apprenticeships and I think that's something which needs accentuating.

'Ever since I was elected to the county council, I have been involved in children's services and I am a great admirer of outdoor learning because I have seen the valuable work that goes on. I remember one young man in particular who had terrible trouble getting on at school but was given the opportunity to learn about gardening, and ended up studying at Easton College. Now he runs his own business. Outdoor learning and vocational training offers wonderful opportunities to young people.'

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Born in Cromer in 1938 and grew up on a smallholding at Hoe, near Dereham, and boarded at Swaffham Convent School. From the age of 11, she attended Dereham High School. She moved to Watlington in west Norfolk in 1958 when she married.

She spent the early part of her working life in accountancy, first with Lloyds Bank, then at an agricultural engineering company in Downham Market. She also she worked as a management accountant for the dairies division of the Milk Marketing Board before training to become a political agent.

Elected to the county council in 2004, her political career extends across the decades. After 27 years as a Conservative party activist and volunteer in South-West Norfolk, she spent the following 20 years as a party agent for the constituency until her retirement in 2003.

Following her election to the county council, she served on the children's services overview and scrutiny panel, and was deputy cabinet member for children's services. In 2009/2010 she served as the cabinet member for children services.

'It is a great honour and not one I expected,' she added. 'I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as vice-chairman, and it has given me a real flavour of what is to come as chairman. It is a very privileged position, and one in which you get to learn new things, meet interesting people and see the wonderful work being done across Norfolk so I am very much looking forward to the next 12 months.'

She is divorced, and has a daughter, Sally, a son, Steve, and four grandchildren. Members of her family might accompany her to some civic events.

Ian Monson was also sworn in as vice-chairman for the coming 12 months at the meeting of the full council this morning.

Outgoing chairman Tony Tomkinson said his year in office had been a wonderful experience and he had been proud to represent the County Council at many events. He presented the council with a signed 2011 portrait photograph of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

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