Fringe Box



Paul Spooner Is Leader of GBC’s Conservatives Again

Published on: 26 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 30 Jun, 2021

Cllr Paul Spooner

Paul Spooner is back as the leader of the Conservative group at Guildford Borough Council.

In a move that seems to have taken many by surprise, the former leader of Guildford Borough Council was re-elected at the group’s AGM this week. He gained the support of eight of the nine group members. The election was uncontested. [This has been clarified since this story was first published.]

Cllr Spooner describes his period away from the leadership as a “sabbatical”.

The Dragon’s Ash reporter, David Reading, sent a short set of questions to the councillor for Ash South and Tongham. Here they are, with Cllr Spooner’s replies:

Why did you want to be the leader of the Conservative Group at GBC again?

After a sabbatical from Conservative Party group leadership following the strain of group leadership (including three and a half years as council leader) I am refreshed and feel ready to lead the team again.

Is it true that the vote at your group’s AGM was 5-4 and that the vote of the newly elected Keith Witham in your favour was decisive?

No. The vote was 8-1 and I am grateful to Cllr Nigel Manning for nominating me.

Cllr Nigel Manning

Why do you think you will make a better leader than the previous group leader Nigel Manning? How is your relationship with him now? Does the group remain fractured?

Members of the Conservative Group have worked hard over the last few months in moving forward as a team. I am very focused on representing Conservatives from across the borough as well as all residents in my ward. Colleagues are moving forward with a similar approach.

Recently elected Pirbright borough councillor, Keith Witham.

What do you see as the most important issues to be tackled by GBC?

Along with colleagues I am very worried about the financial position that is now being presented by the current administration and mounting financial losses, some through errors, occurring at the council. This has a direct impact on the services we can offer as a council.

Many identify you with Guildford’s Local Plan, which is unpopular with many in the borough. Will that be a disadvantage for your party?

I stand by the adoption of the Local Plan and as time moves on it becomes more and more clear that the adopted Plan was the best compromise available at the time. It has in fact protected against further speculative development. The Plan built in safeguards in the event that infrastructure was not delivered in a timely manner and that should now be exploited by the current administration.

How do you think the recently announced ‘Guildford Forum’ will fit in with other bodies such as GBC?

I welcome the initiative by our MP, Angela Richardson, and welcome any opportunity to bring stakeholders together. I am sure that a well-structured forum can work alongside GBC and should include senior councillors and officers, in my opinion.

Recent history of Tory group leadership

Cracks within GBC’s Conservative group widened in the wake of their party’s disastrous 2019 campaign that saw them lose 26 seats across the borough from their 2015 total. It was their worst-ever result by some margin since Guildford Borough Council was created in the 1970s.

Some who lost their seats were critical of Cllr Spooner’s leadership and the way that the controversial Local Plan for Guildford was adopted in the purdah period, just days before the May 2019 election. But he was confirmed as leader at a group meeting in the months following.

Problems for the surviving Conservatives were exacerbated by disagreements within Ash Parish Council, chaired by Nigel Manning. All six Ash borough councillors including Paul Spooner were also, at the time, members of the exclusively Tory parish council. One group member described it as “a clash of egos”.

Cllr Spooner resigned as a parish councillor and in June 2020 as leader of the Conservative group at GBC. A statement issued in July 2020 said: “The group of four (Paul Spooner and Graham Eyre, both Ash South & Tongham, David Bilbe, Normandy, and Richard Billington, Tillingbourne), has found it necessary to form a Conservative ‘independent’ group owing to differences within the wider Conservative group of eight.”

Tory group split was patched up in December 2020

The two groups of four underwent mediation, organised by their party, which eventually succeeded in bringing them back together, under Nigel Manning, in December.

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Responses to Paul Spooner Is Leader of GBC’s Conservatives Again

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 27, 2021 at 10:24 am

    That’s the final nail in the coffin for the Tories in Guildford.

    As evidenced in the borough and county elections, Guildford and Mole Valley residents will never forgive this motley crew for the destruction now being visited upon us because of their discredited Local Plan.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    June 29, 2021 at 6:34 pm

    The other parties must be very pleased at this further evidence of the local Tory death wish. But Mr Cranwell is unfair to say this is the final nail: they could surely still bring back others with even worse track records.

  3. R W L Davies Reply

    July 2, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    He must do very much better than his last time around; otherwise, the excellent Ms Richardson will lose her seat.

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