Shropshire Star

The potential candidates in the running to be next Shropshire Council leader

The shock defeat of Shropshire Council's leader has opened up the top job on the authority – now the question is who steps up to take his place.

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Shropshire Council needs a new leader after Peter Nutting's shock defeat

The Conservative group delivered what even the most blue-eyed of political supporters would describe as an underwhelming performance in last week's Shropshire Council election, losing five seats in the process.

The bare figures don't tell the full story either, with five other races seeing Tory candidates squeaking home with little room to spare, while behind the scenes there have been rumblings about candidate selection processes, and canvassing strategy.

While they secured what most would consider a commanding majority, when set against Conservative gains in the rest of the country there is no doubt that behind closed doors candidates will be asking serious questions about how the party's campaign unfolded.

When all the votes were counted the number of Conservative seats fell by five to 43 – still 12 more than all the opposition parties combined, but certainly an under-par performance against expectations.

In the highest profile result of the election Council Leader Councillor Peter Nutting lost his Copthorne seat in Shrewsbury.

It has opened up a spot at the top of the group, and one which will instantly put the new incumbent in charge of a council facing a number of pressing issues.

Senior party figures have been tight lipped over the contest, with few wanting to break cover and publicly declare their intentions.

To understand what may happen it is important to understand the process by which the new leader will be selected.

On Monday, around 4pm, the 43 Conservative councillors will meet, and will vote on a 'one-member-one-vote' basis for who they want to lead the group.

Within that group the dominant force is the North Shropshire Conservatives – commanding 21 of the 43 available votes.

Sources in the party have suggested that the numerical dominance means the new leader is likely to come from the group of 21 North Shropshire councillors – or will certainly need their support to win.

The only contender to publicly put his hat in the ring so far is Deputy Leader Councillor Steve Charmley.

Whittington Councillor Steve Charmley

The Whittington Councillor survived a major scare to hold on to his seat, scraping past the Lib Dem challenge by just 24 votes.

He is one of the most experienced councillors on the authority, having been a cabinet member since it was formed in 2009, but some may see his role in the previous leadership and association with the underwhelming election campaign as reasons for second thoughts.

His role as deputy means he is acting leader until the vote takes place, but despite appearing the early favourite, throughout the week there has been talk of support for fellow North Shropshire Councillor Rob Macey, who represents Gobowen, Selattyn and Weston Rhyn, and potentially Tern Councillor Lezley Picton.

Councillor Macey had been suggested as another potential option

Councillor Macey has been in charge of the council's planning portfolio – and the poison chalice of the local development plan, while Councillor Picton has earned respect for her work as the authority's cabinet member for culture.

Long-standing councillor Gwilym Butler, who represents Cleobury Mortimer and served as portfolio holder for Communities, Place Planning and Regulatory Services, had been suggested as another potential contender.

One senior source said that the winning candidate would need to be someone to carry the confidence of the staff – and council partners, and not just the party.

Tern Councillor Lezley Picton

They said: "It isn't just about leading the party, it is about inspiring confidence in the staff. Dealing with partners when they are concerned. It needs to be someone who inspires confidence and provides a re-assuring presence."

A key question likely to be considered in the vote is what was the cause of a frustrating election campaign.

It has been suggested that local issues cut-through more successfully with the voters in Shropshire, while the Tories' handing of the pandemic and vaccination programme carried councillors to success in other parts of the country.

Cleobury Councillor Gwilym Butler

The North West Relief Road has seemingly played a major role in voting for the new council – with Mr Nutting's loss put down in some quarters to his vocal support of the plan.

Other major plans such as the purchase of Shrewsbury's Shopping Centres, the possible relocation of Shirehall, the redevelopment of Shrewsbury's Riverside – and above all the county's pothole problem, have all been seen as having a major influence on the outcome of the vote.

One senior source said they would not expect any change in direction over the policies, saying: "Regardless of who ends up as leader I do not see any of the big ticket projects changing course – without fail each of them is the right thing to do."

Whoever takes the reigns on Monday will certainly have to hit the ground running, with a freshly energised opposition chamber ready to capitalise on gains made at the ballot box.

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