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Cranleigh Councillor to Challenge for SCC Leadership as Old Rivalries Re-emerge

Council Leader David Hodge (left) is to be challenged by Andrew Povey

A leadership bid for the Conservative-run Surrey County Council (SCC) is expected to be mounted this Friday (March 16) at a group meeting of the Tory councillors at Kingston.

See also: The Kingston View: David Hodge Re-elected and Other County Council News

The current leader David Hodge (Con, Warlingham) is to be challenged by Andrew Povey (Con, Cranleigh), his predecessor as county council leader until his resignation in 2011.

He was succeeded by David Hodge who had been his deputy. Tension between the two was given as part of the reason. The full reasons for his resignation are still uncertain but describing his relationship with Hodge he told the BBC, at the time: “It got to the point where we were seeing things differently… we have a different style, are very different people – that can be a strength, but I think it got to the point where it was going the other way.”

Shortly afterwards he was said to have offended some of his erstwhile colleagues by tweeting about the county council cabinet, selected by his successor:  “six men, four women, one known gay and no Ph D”.

A month ago, during a Radio Surrey interview, Povey criticised Hodges about management of SCC’s finances. At the time, some observers suspected it was the first sign of a leadership bid from Povey.

Hodge’s tenure as leader has not been without controversy. Apart from the ongoing financial crisis faced by the council as central government funding has dried up he accidentally sent a text message to a member of the Labour party which was used by Jeremy Corbyn to challenge the Theresa May at prime minister’s question time.

The leader of the opposition challenged the PM by asking: “So how much did the government offer to Surrey [to call off a planned referendum on a 15% council tax rise] and is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by her government?”

Cllr Povey told Get Surrey this week: “He [Cllr Hodge] has been leader for seven years which is a fairly long time.

“We need some fresh thinking in terms of funding. I want to put together a new narrative and a fresh approach.

“We have lost ground. We have made a lot of savings but we are nowhere near to a sustainable budget.”

“There is a lot of anticipation within the council to change. I think some new members need to be brought on more to bring new energy.”

On the chances of his challenge succeeding, he said: “I have been talking to members and I am getting a good reception. We will have to see.”

But feelings expressed by a number of county councillors to The Guildford Dragon, off the record, were that, while it was not certain, Povey’s bid was unlikely to attract more than the 50% required for him to unseat Hodge who is respected, by at least some of his party colleagues, for putting the county first, rather than his party.

One Tory councillor said he would be “very, very surprised” if the vote went against David Hodge.

61 Conservative members form the Tory group at SCC out of a total of 81 councillors.

David Hodge has been invited to comment.

See also: Cranleigh Conservatives Troubled Over ‘Underhand’ Selection of Election Candidate

‘Resign or Face No Confidence Motion’, Tory County Council Leader Told

Question to PM: ‘Was County Council Offered Sweetheart Deal to Call Off Referendum’

Joanna Killian and David Hodge outside County Hall

New CEO at Surrey County Council

The leadership challenge has come shortly in the wake of the appointment of a new chief executive of Surrey County Council on March 5.

Joanna Killian the former Essex County Council chief, who joined world-renowned business consultancy KPMG in 2015, was chosen after a selection process to find a replacement for David McNulty.

Killian said: “I am delighted to be joining Surrey County Council, working with the leader, his Cabinet and all members to deliver the best quality services and outcomes for residents.

“I know that I am joining a fabulous organisation and look forward to working with the great staff group that I have to deliver the best for the residents and businesses of Surrey.”

Joanna Killian began her career in housing at Redbridge council and went on to work for both Tower Hamlets and Croydon before becoming director of local government performance and improvement at the Audit Commission.

She joined Essex in 2005 as director of policy, resources and performance, becoming chief executive a year later and reportedly guiding the authority to savings of £620 million in five years. Killian has spent the last two years at KPMG as a partner and head of local government and devolution.

Council Leader David Hodge said: “I’m delighted to welcome Joanna to Surrey and I have no doubt that she will be a tremendous asset to the county. We are both very clear that the residents must be at the heart of all we do.

“Local government is facing challenges but there are nonetheless enormous opportunities to reshape services for the better. It is our role, alongside our partners, to be game changers so local people continue to get the best possible support from us all.”

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