The Conservative and Independent group has secured a new chairman for Mid Suffolk District Council for the year ahead, effectively holding on to power at the politically deadlocked authority.

Paul Ekpenyong, Conservative councillor for St Peter’s ward, has served as deputy chairman for the past year.

At Monday night’s annual meeting, held at Wherstead Park to enable social distancing, he was voted in as chairman thanks to the casting vote of the outgoing chairman, Barry Humphreys.

The council chairman represents the authority at community events and engagements, as well as chairing full council meetings.

However, as Mid Suffolk is a politically split authority - with 17 councillors on each side of the chamber - the chairman’s casting vote becomes crucial for decision-making.

Mr Humphreys will serve as vice-chairman this year, also secured by a casting vote of the new chairman.

Conservative councillor Dave Muller, who proposed Mr Ekpenyong for the role, said he was "very impressed with how he has dealt with issues" and praised his time as Stowmarket town mayor, which he said was served "with distinction".

Councillor Jessica Fleming, seconding, said he had "always been fair, sensitive, he sees the small picture and the big picture, and he will be a wonderful chair".

The council currently has 16 Conservatives and one Independent united as part of the administration, while the 12 Greens and five Liberal Democrats have come together to form an opposition group.

The Green and Lib Dem alliance put forward Roland Warboys as their preferred chairman, but outgoing chairman Mr Humphreys used his casting vote in favour of Mr Ekpenyong.

Rachel Eburne, leader of the Green and Lib Dem group, said: “The role of chair is a very important role and one who has to show complete and utter fairness to everybody in the council chamber, regardless of political party.”

She said Mr Warboys had demonstrated his commitment to Mid Suffolk and valued the opinions of everybody in the chamber.

Mr Ekpenyong confirmed his chosen charity for fundraising activity through the year will be East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) - a cause close to his heart after his son was diagnosed with leukaemia.