SHROPSHIRE Council is to have its first female leader after Conservative councillors voted Lezley Picton into the top job.

Councillor Picton said she was “ecstatic and very humbled” to be entrusted with the huge task of leading the authority out of the pandemic, and pledged to make tackling the plague of potholes on the county’s roads one of her first priorities.

She said there would also be a “pause and review” on the four major projects the council is currently pursuing – the North West Relief Road, the Shrewsbury shopping centres, the local plan review and the move out of Shirehall to a new town centre headquarters – but that no major changes in direction were planned.

Councillor Picton takes over from Peter Nutting, who lost his seat to the Liberal Democrats in one of the biggest shocks of the local elections earlier this month.
On her decision to stand in the leadership race, Councillor Picton said: “It was never particularly something that I had thought I wanted to do when I joined the council four years ago.

“If Peter had returned as leader I wouldn’t have stood against him.

“After Peter started to say he thought the writing was on the wall I had started to think that I may throw my hat into the ring, and then other members approached me.

“I love this county and I want to make a difference – I think that’s probably why every councillor joins up – but at the top you perhaps get a little more opportunity to make those changes.”

Councillor Picton, who represents Tern, was portfolio holder for culture, leisure, waste and communications in Mr Nutting’s cabinet.

She was up against Whittington councillor Steve Charmley, Mr Nutting’s deputy, in the leadership battle but came out on top in a poll of the group’s 43 members on Monday.

Rob Macey, who represents Gobowen, Selattyn and Weston Rhyn, also entered the race but later pulled out.

Councillor Picton’s appointment will be confirmed with a vote of the full council on Thursday, at its first in-person meeting since before the pandemic.
She said it would then be full steam ahead to tackle the challenges facing the county.

She said: “We are emerging from Covid and I want to make sure Shropshire is healthy, both in terms of its economy and its population.

“And then we need to make sure we are doing the basics right.

“We do two things for everybody in the county – we empty their bins and they drive on the roads. One of those we do very well and I’m going to make damn sure we are doing the other one well.”

Councillor Picton said the cohort of 24 new councillors joining the ranks alongside 50 returning members would bring “new ideas and new impetus”.

She also said she was “very proud” to be the first woman to lead Shropshire Council since the unitary body was formed in 2009.

“We do need to encourage more women into politics,” said Councillor Picton.

“We have got a lot of female parish councillors, and some young female parish councillors, but they don’t seem to progress to becoming unitary councillors.”

Councillor Charmley will continue as deputy leader, and Councillor Picton will appoint the remainder of her cabinet at Thursday’s meeting.

Councillor Charmley said: “I am looking forward to working with Lezley and taking forward the Conservative policies that Shropshire has voted for.

“I have every confidence in Lezley’s leadership and I know she will work hard as we all will to repay the faith the electorate of Shropshire has placed in us once again.”

Meanwhile Alan Mosley will continue as Labour group leader, Julian Dean will lead the newly-formed Green group, and former Conservative cabinet member David Minnery will lead the independent group.

The Liberal Democrats – the largest opposition group with 14 members – are yet to announce their group leader.