Council leader ousted

Harrogate Borough Council's new leader, Coun Anthony Alton.

Harrogate Borough Council's new leader, Coun Anthony Alton.

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HARROGATE Council’s leader has been ousted in a dramatic post-election vote.

Members of the district’s Conservative Party decided to replace Coun Don Mackenzie at a fraught meeting on Saturday night.

Their new head is Coun Anthony Alton, formerly the cabinet member for finance, who won the contest by 17 votes to 16 and will become leader of the council at the annual general meeting on May 21.

He has been replaced as deputy by Coun Alan Skidmore.

Coun Mackenzie told the Advertiser he was disappointed to have been defeated and that the leadership contest had been sprung on him.

“I had little notice of the challenge and, having been occupied with leadership duties and recent election campaigns of others, I was insufficiently prepared – as it turned out – to successfully defend my position,” he said.

“It remains unclear to me why this narrow majority wished to see change.

“I hope to receive a plausible explanation very soon.”

Coun Alton said he had entered the race at 4.30pm on Friday, after hearing at the election count that Ripon member Alan Skidmore was due to contest the leadership.

“I took soundings and decided to stand,” Coun Alton said.

“It’s come as a surprise, but I’m delighted that members have shown faith in me.

“I’m honoured.”

Asked yesterday why he felt a change at the top was necessary, he said: “It’s the party that have decided – it’s democracy in action.”

Coun Alton said he did not anticipate a great deal of change in the work of the council, but that using his experience to manage the finances would be key.

“It is going to become more and more important as the government cuts the grant to councils throughout the country,” he said.

The decision to replace the Conservative leader, which took place less than 48 hours after the council’s district elections, lays bare the divisions within the local party.

Coun Mackenzie was previously sacked from the cabinet in October 2010 by then leader Mike Gardner, who accused him of disloyalty, a charge he denied.

He was subsequently voted in as leader of the council the following May, supposedly for a four-year term. Coun Mackenzie has rejected a request to join his successor’s cabinet.

Coun Alton said: “He’s been an extraordinarily hard-working leader and I’m disappointed that he declined an invitation to be part of my team.”

Unveiled: New cabinet

Coun Alton said his new cabinet, drawn from across the district, possessed “a blend of experience and new blood”.

l Deputy leader and cabinet member for planning and transport – Alan Skidmore

l Resources – Ivor Fox

l Housing – Mike Chambers

l Environment – Phil Ireland

l Public protection and rural affairs – Margaret Atkinson

l Culture – Pat Jones

l For full election results, see our special report on Page 5 of this week’s Ripon Gazette.