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Tories get ready to vote for new leader
1:00pm Monday 18th March 2013 in News
TWO candidates are tonight vying to take over from Coun Rod Bluh as the leader of Swindon Council’s Conservative group and almost certainly become the next leader of the whole authority.
Swindon’s majority Tory group opened nominations after Coun Bluh (Con, Old Town), 57, a chartered accountant, announced in February he was resigning in April following a record seven continuous years in charge.
The deadline is noon today but the two current candidates are Coun David Renard (Con, Haydon Wick), the current deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, and Coun Russell Holland (Con, St Margaret and South Marston), the cabinet Member for One Swindon, Localities and housing.
The Conservative group of all 29 Tory councillors will meet in private to elect a new group leader, who will become the Conservative nominee for the new council leader when Coun Bluh steps down at the council meeting on April 11.
In a contested election, the Tories’ usual process is to draw lots for a speaking order and give each candidate five minutes to make their case.
There will then be up to 15 minutes for questions. Voting will be by secret ballot and the winner will be the one with a simple majority.
Whoever becomes next council leader will receive an annual £27,000 allowance, but will inherit a tough financial and political situation, having to make budget savings of about £15m for several years to come, deal with £92m of external debt, and keep the party together with a slim majority.
Coun Renard said: “I’m confident I have a good base of support and hope that will be enough.
“I think a number of people are keeping their options open. You have some firmly in the one camp and some in the other and a number in the middle keeping their options open, so we have to wait and see what’s going to happen.
“I’ve got a lot of experience across a range of portfolios. I have been on the cabinet since 2004 so I have got the experience and the expertise, and, hopefully, over that time I have generated the trust of colleagues.
“I have a track record of delivering and I think I can provide the group with the stability it needs.”
If Coun Renard secures the post, there will be an earlier than usual election for the role of deputy group leader, which is expected to be hotly contested, with three potential candidates.
Coun Holland said: “I’m Swindon born and bred. I love the town, I love the people. I just want to have the opportunity to do the best I can to make things better.
“I studied politics and economics and Oxford University, but this town is my home and I’m now in my fifth year as a councillor, and I feel I have got the ideas and skills to take us forward for what’s going to be a challenging year.”
Commenting on his level of support, he said: “It’s for the group to make up their minds. Whoever becomes leader, I will do my very best for the Conservative group and for the people of Swindon.”
Coun Bluh declined to comment on his preferred successor but said he was seeking a safe pair of hands who could give the time and commitment to the job, could represent the town as well as the group, and who had the right people skills and would continue the work to date.
Candidates line up to do battle for coveted role
Russell Holland, 33, was born at Princess Margaret Hospital and grew up in Wroughton. After studying politics and economics at Oxford, he worked in the voluntary sector from 2002 to 2008, before qualifying as a self-employed barrister.
He was elected in the old Stratton St Margaret ward in 2007, and then in the St Margaret and South Marston ward in 2012.
He was appointed cabinet member for One Swindon and communities in 2011 and became cabinet member for One Swindon, communities and housing the same year. This role is now known as One Swindon, Localities and housing. He is also a governor of New College and lives in Stratton.
David Renard, 53, worked in the travel and tourism industry and then moved into training and development, largely associated with the travel and tourism industry. From 2000 to 2004, he lectured in travel and tourism, plus English and maths, at Swindon College.
He was elected for the Haydon Wick ward in 2002 was given the council’s housing portfolio in 2004, taking on extra responsibilities in adult social care and health integration in 2006, before moving over to children services in 2010 and becoming the deputy leader in 2012.
He has lived in Swindon for 23 years. He is a father of three, and lives in Haydon Wick. He is currently not employed.