New leader for South Ribble Council's Tories
The Conservative opposition group on South Ribble Borough Council has a new leader – and she has pledged to keep the current Labour administration “on their toes”.
Karen Walton takes over from Margaret Smith who has stepped down after spending almost 12 of the last 14 years in charge of the council’s Tory members, during most of which time she also led the authority itself.
Cllr Walton, one of the ward councillors for Farington West, was the cabinet member for public health and safety, wellbeing and environmental during the last Conservative administration up until May 2019 – and was first elected four years prior to that.
She says that while she had never aspired to be the group’s leader, it was something she had been “encouraged” to do – and is now keen to take on the role as the borough looks to what will hopefully be its post-pandemic future.
“It will be a challenging time for the council and for everybody, but hopefully we have got through the worst of Covid and now we’ll work to bring about all the projects that [the council has planned] and be a good opposition to the administration.
“At the moment, [my aim is to] keep the administration on their toes and challenge their plans to make sure they’re the best for all the residents of South Ribble – because they are my priority.
“I hope we’ll be able to work more cross-party – when the Conservatives were in charge before, we did a lot of cross-party work and I’d hope that would be encouraged, especially with some of the big issues, like the [council retaking control of] leisure services.
While Cllr Walton ultimately wants to take charge of the council at the next local elections in the district in 2023, she says her focus for now is on helping the authority to “continue the hard work” of its officers and staff in assisting the borough in its recovery from Covid.
“Everybody has been working amazingly hard during the pandemic and has provided lots of help, especially [those responsible for] community services – I cannot praise them enough. They have done a phenomenal job of keeping things going and helping the members of our borough who really have felt the [impact of] Covid in whatever way.
“I think we’re in a pretty good place at the moment – it’s now about…helping the more vulnerable members of the borough and making sure they can access all the services that are available to them,” Cllr Walton added.
The new deputy leader of the group is former cabinet member - and Cllr Margaret Smith's husband - Phil Smith.