Three in race for County Hall top job

The battle to succeed Tory county council leader Shaun Murphy looks set to be a three-horse race which could skip a generation after the emergence of two young candidates and the decision of current deputy Harry Humphrey not to put his hat in the ring.

The battle to succeed Tory county council leader Shaun Murphy looks set to be a three-horse race which could skip a generation after the emergence of two young candidates and the decision of current deputy Harry Humphrey not to put his hat in the ring.

Following a week of political twists and turns after Mr Murphy's surprise announce-ment to quit, the candidates to emerge are cabinet member Tony Williams, Wymondham councillor Daniel Cox, and his neighbour from Forehoe, Andrew Pond.

But while the latter two are close both geographically and in age, Mr Cox, 36, seen as a rising Tory star, is believed to have the tacit support of the leadership and could be favourite, while Mr Pond, 43, is further to the right and is supported by previous leadership challenger Brian Iles and former council chairman John Baskerville.

That leaves Mr Williams, 60, somewhere in the middle, now boasting both cabinet experience and pledging to stem council tax rises to the level of inflation.

The former Norfolk NFU chairman, who started his career as a farmer before moving into banking, running branches for Barclays in North Norfolk, said he wanted to deliver value for money and try and get council tax rises down to the same level as inflation.

A school governor and a director of the Aylsham Show, the 60-year-old completed the three-peaks challenge raising £9,000 for charity last year and insisted he had the stamina to see off his youthful challengers.

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Mr Williams said his background in finance and project management would also stand him in good stead for running the £1bn-a-year organisation.

“I'm energetic and involved in the community,” he added. “I was pleased to be part of a successful team and I would like to build on that success. We have got some stiff challenges in front of us. If you are in politics, you have got to be ambitious.”

He said he wanted a council which could work smarter using technology in a way to free up more cash for frontline services.

Mr Cox, whose council career hit the headlines days after his election in 2004 after his mother was accused of using a postal vote of another woman without her permission, is also deputy Tory group leader at South Norfolk Council.

He has been singled out as leadership material and is a cabinet support member for finance and corporate affairs, which means he would stand in for Harry Humphrey.

Last night he said he preferred to keep his powder dry on his vision for the county council until he had shared it with his Tory colleagues.

“I have put myself forward for the leadership but at this stage I would rather not say anything until I have spoken to the group myself,” he said.

Mr Pond said he had already planned to challenge Mr Murphy before his resignation at next Friday's AGM because of unhappiness at the “them and us” approach of the ruling cabinet, which has been a long running issue among the Tory rebels.

“I want to unite the group and see us work together as best we can for the people of Norfolk,” he said. “We can't keep going on with 4.75pc council tax increases and just making excuses when the government hasn't given us what we think we should have.

“Even the opposition are coming up with a lower council tax than we are - something is wrong some-where. As much as anything it's about making us a team again to help make us more effective.

“I felt Shaun had a very casual attitude; there is a need for more unity between the cabinet and the rest of the group. It's the group that should decide the policy and the cabinet should see that it's carried out, rather than has been the case of late,” he said.