Councillor Richard Hilton becomes Merton Conservatives' new leader after shock resignation of Debbie Shears
Merton Conservatives have a new leader following the shock resignation of Councillor Debbie Shears.
Councillor Richard Hilton is the new leader after challenging Coun Shears for the leadership at the Tory group's annual general meeting yesterday.
Councillor Richard Hilton resigned as the Merton Conservatives environment, transport and regeneration spokesman - two days before Merton Council’s budget meeting on March 6.
It is the second time Coun Hilton had resigned from the Conservative shadow cabinet over reported disagreements with Coun Shears.
His resignation was suspected to be a bid to challenge her leadership ahead of the group’s annual general meeting on March 18.
The pair would have faced off for the position with Conservative councillors voting on their preferred leader.
But - in a shock twist - Coun Shears resigned from her position ahead of the meeting.
Councillor Richard Hilton was last night named the group’s new leader.
Following his appointment, Coun Hilton praised Coun Shears for her hard work and dedication which he said had given the group a good foundation to build strong Conservative policies to win over Merton residents in next year’s local elections.
He said: “Residents want low Council tax, low crime, clean streets and a housing policy that puts local people first.”
“We know we can deliver on all these pledges and more.
"We know, for instance, that when we get to handle the purse strings instead of profligate Labour, for instance, we can deliver the biggest Council Tax cut in Merton’s history.”
“Unlike Labour, we won’t be letting unelected officers dictate policy.
“There will be no more fleecing motorists with vicious and unfair parking fines, and no more draconian cuts to services for children and the elderly.
“Merton Conservatives have a positive vision for a clean, caring, safe, efficient and fair borough.
“The fight to win back the Council in 2014 just stepped up a gear.”
On learning of his appointment Councillor Stephen Alambritis, leader of the council's labour-run adminsitration, said: "This confirms that Merton's Tories have completely lurched to the right.
"Wild talk of introducing the biggest cut to the council tax in Merton's history can only mean one thing - huge cuts elsewhere.
"But rest assured, we will oppose Tory plans that will result in parks being shut, libraries and children's centres closing as well as the ending of weekly street cleaning.
"We think our residents deserve better."
Coun Hilton has named Councillor Suzanne Evans as his deputy leader while Councillors Suzanne Grocott and Ray Tindle will share the role of Group Secretary.
Coun Hilton is expected to announce his full shadow cabinet after Easter.